by MIKE ORLOCK
Late summer is the traditional dumping ground for Hollywood movies the major studios have surmised are too weak to compete against blockbusters like Indiana Jones and Barbie, and too weird to garner much attention for awards consideration and the late fall or early winter release that would prop up their chances for nominations. That doesn’t mean that these oddities aren’t any good, they’re just, well…different.
Take Jules (PG-13), for example. The film boasts some “name” talent (Oscar winner Ben Kingsley, Tony and Emmy winner Harriet Sansom Harris, and two-time Emmy winner and former SNL cast member Jane Curtin) under the direction of Indie auteur Marc Turtletaub (Gods Behaving Badly), working from a script by Gavin Steckler that plays like a geriatric version of E.T. and is just quirky enough to be endearing.
Kingley plays Milton, a 78-year-old widower in a small, Pennsylvania town slowly sinking into dementia. He has a daughter (Zoe Winters) who stops by the house occasionally to help him with his monthly bills, and an estranged son he hasn’t seen in over a decade. He spends his days watching CSI and one weekly evening, attending city council meetings, offering his suggestions about traffic and the town’s slogan, “A Good Place to Call Home,” which he considers unnecessarily confusing. No one takes him seriously or really even listens to him except for two old ladies named Sandy and Joyce (Harris and Curtin, respectively), who have their own list of ideas that they share with the council. No one pays attention to them, either.
Then one night a flying saucer crashes into Milton’s back yard, decimating his azaleas. He calls 911 but the dispatcher, perhaps recognizing his name, warns him that making crank calls is a crime. He shows up at the next city council meeting to complain, but the mayor rolls his eyes and asks for the next speaker.
When an alien being crawls from the saucer and curls up on Milton’s back patio, he offers it water and a smorgasbord of food, discovering that the little space creature (played by stunt woman Jade Quon) favors apples, lots of apples, which sends Milton to the grocery store to buy more, lots more. When the clerk questions what he wants with all the apples, Milton tells him he’s feeding them to a spaceman, an exchange that eventually gets back to his daughter Denise, who figures maybe it’s time to get dad some serious medical help.
Sandy and Joyce become complicit with Milton in caring for and “mothering” the little spaceman, whom they name Jules. Their afternoons spent talking to (and about) Jules give them a sense of purpose they haven’t felt in years. They also try to assist Jules in repairing his damaged spacecraft, which results in some of the funnier scenes I’ve seen this year, Barbie included; and they hide him from the authorities, who eventually come to suspect that there are strange things going on at Milton’s house that warrant investigation.
Jules isn’t quite the classic that E.T. turned out to be, but it is gentle, funny, and sweetly profound in ways that make it memorable. And at 90 minutes running time (an anomaly in this summer of super-long movies) it doesn’t wear out its welcome before the closing credits.
The film is currently showing only in theaters. There are no definitive streaming plans announced for Jules, but I imagine it will land somewhere this fall, and when it does, I look forward to watching it again.
In another lifetime, Mike Orlock wrote film reviews for the Reporter/Progress newspapers in the western suburbs of Chicago. He has also taught high school English, coached basketball and authored three books of poetry. He finished his two-year term as Door County’s poet laureate in early 2023.