2023, PG-13, 90 min. Directed by Marc Turtletaub. Starring Ben Kingsley, Harriet Sansom Harris, Zoe Winters, Jane Curtin, Jade Quon.

REVIEWED By Trace Sauveur, Fri., Aug. 11, 2023

With its offbeat-dramedy-meets-sci-fi concept, Jules feels pulled right out of the world of indie cinema from 10 years ago. It’s in communion with the likes of Safety Not Guaranteed or Seeking A Friend for the End of the World: movies that revel in a superficial attempt at charm that’s undermined by a shallow understanding of their own characters, instead choosing to live and die by a determined sense of quirk wrapped up within their supposedly refreshing sense of genre-bending. If that sounds harsh, it’s because this type of movie always comes off as grating and bland to my eyes and ears.

To be fair to Jules, it does carry itself with a bit more of a low-key, approachable earnestness, but it’s still difficult to take much away from this over-the-hill E.T. story. Ben Kingsley plays Milton Robinson, a doddering senior whose daughter, Denise (Winters), worries he is starting to suffer from memory loss and senile confusion. Her fears are not allayed by the fact that Milton begins mentioning an alien that landed in his backyard. The alien is very real and is the titular Jules. Played by Jade Quon in a mute performance, the creature’s silence ultimately acts as encouragement for the people that encounter it to open up more than they normally would.

Milton befriends Jules first, buying him apples to eat and letting him remain in his home, but it’s not long before fellow older locals Sandy (Harris) and Joyce (Curtin) find what Milton has been hiding in his house. The three become co-conspirators in harboring an extraterrestrial fugitive that’s being hunted by the government in an underlying subplot that’s less than half-baked. Though it has pit stops in some more familiar, provoking science-fiction concepts and imagery, including an offscreen head explosion, the film’s tone is generally defined by a placid sense of nicety, as the sheer extraordinary nature of Jules’ appearance ends up forcing these characters to reckon with their late stages of life.

This is a fine concept in theory, and it’s nice to see a coming-of-age movie targeted at an older audience. Yet the latest film from Marc Turtletaub (who, coincidentally, produced Safety Not Guaranteed) fails to mine a true sense of meaning out of its events. There’s a lack of synthesis between the script’s earthly drama and gestures toward intergalactic escapades; ostensibly, this is a film about rediscovering one’s humanity by way of otherworldly emotional connection, but the relationship between the central trio and Jules himself never feels particularly resonant.

At the very least it’s a decent performance showcase for its cast, though the feeble, doting elderly man direction that Kingsley is given begins to encroach on being too cutesy for its own good. As does the trajectory of the narrative, which prioritizes fleeting whimsy over satisfying emotional closure. Maybe this will speak to the demographic represented within more successfully but, despite an air of amiability that makes this hard to be too upset with, it’s also too frivolous to take seriously.

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Jules, Marc Turtletaub, Ben Kingsley, Harriet Sansom Harris, Zoe Winters, Jane Curtin, Jade Quon

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