“Jules” is “E.T. AARP”.
Milton, a 78-year-old small-town Pennsylvania resident (played by Ben Kingsley) discovers a spaceship in his backyard. Milton’s first instinct is to call 911, which he does — but, of course, the operator doesn’t believe him. Soon an alien emerges from craft.
From the start of the film we’re led to believe Milton is suffering from early stage dementia. Townspeople, and his own adult daughter, aren’t sure what to think when he mentions the UFO, including at a town council meeting and the local grocery store. Fellow seniors Sandy (Harriet Sansom Harris, who played Frasier Crane’s agent Bebe on that iconic sitcom) and eventually Joyce (“SNL”’s Jane Curtin) discover, first-hand, that Milton’s telling the truth.
They name the alien Jules (though Joyce calls him Gary). He eats apple slices and is clearly trying to communicate something important to the humans. The trio quickly become attached to Jules, and make it their quest to protect from government agents and help him get back to his home. The parallels to Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi classic are beyond obvious.
Clearly writer Gavin Steckler and director Marc Turtletaub were hoping to use this fable to convey truths about aging, mental illness and broken relationships. And there are a few lines of dialogue that really hit the mark.
But movies like this need a great final act. The resolution not only has to bring together everything we’ve experienced up to that point (much of it wildly unbelievable), but it needs to be emotionally powerful. And “Jules” doesn’t succeed on either front. While it’s a drama about connection, the film suffers immensely from a lack of connective tissue. The concepts, themes and actions of the characters just don’t mesh together.
It’s unclear who or what Jules is supposed to represent, or his true purpose and influence on Milton. Some story elements are overdone, while others are poorly conceived and illogical. The tone is so uneven, with several silly and bizarre moments (from the actors and visually), that it’s impossible to take “Jules” seriously, even as you’re rooting for it to succeed.
Unfortunately, “Jules” is not a jewel.
LCJ GRADE: C
“Jules” opens in theaters nationwide on August 11th. Running Time: 87 min.