Though Jules explores relatable themes and the human race’s desire for connection, the film’s underdeveloped story makes the sci-fi drama forgettable.
When I first saw the trailer for Jules, I couldn’t wait to watch the film. Sir Ben Kingsley and Harriet Sansom Harris were an instant draw for me, and a story based on a friendly alien bringing people together and changing their lives for the better seemed an intriguing and unique angle. As a mysterious species, features based on extraterrestrials tend to portray them as menacing creatures that target humans, but what if they wish us no harm and their time on Earth taught us valuable lessons? This is the basis of Marc Turtletaub’s Jules, and while the film explores themes of loneliness and the desire for human connection rather effectively, the story feels underdeveloped and is rather forgettable.
Jules follows Milton (Sir Ben Kingsley), a 78-year-old retiree who lives in the small town of Boonton, Pennsylvania. He finds fulfillment in routinely watching his favorite television shows and tending to the flowers in his garden. Every week, he attends the local town hall meetings, with a list of requests that he hopes the council will put into effect. Milton concerns himself most with the town’s slogan, which he believes is misleading and should be changed. However, the attendees have heard it all before, as he puts forth this request each week and is showing early signs of dementia.
He is estranged from his son Tim, and as his daughter, Denise (Zoe Winters), sees signs of Milton’s cognitive decline, she grows concerned about her father and hopes he will consider going into a care facility, which upsets him greatly. But when the unthinkable happens, and a UFO falls out of the sky and into Milton’s backyard, his life is forever changed. Befriending the extraterrestrial not only opens Milton up emotionally but connects him with two other Boonton residents and town hall meeting goers, Joyce (Jane Curtin) and Sandy (Harriet Sansom Harris).
There’s no doubt that the cast is one of Jules’s greatest assets, with Kingsley portraying a seemingly aloof Milton, who is very set in his ways. As time passes, we learn that under the surface, he’s rather sensitive and harbors feelings of guilt and loneliness. If you’re expecting a film with an alien adventure at its forefront, then you’ll be disappointed, as that’s not the angle here. Instead, Jules is the driving force that allows Milton to be honest with his feelings, make some changes in his life for the better, and face reality. Jules’s presence also brings Milton closer to Joyce and Sandy, who also crave human connection. You collectively feel sorry for the three as you realize they just want someone to talk to. Though Jules can’t speak, the extraterrestrial sits and listens, acting as an escape for the trio, which is all they really need.
While Jules has some sentimental moments scattered in, and the desire for human connection and feelings of loneliness will be relatable for viewers, overall, the film is underwhelming and lacks depth. Joyce and Sandy are both larger-than-life characters, but outside of their requests at the town hall meetings and talks with Milton about Jules, we learn little about their private lives. This is a great shame, especially with the talented Curtin and Sansom Harris onboard, who bring so much personality to the characters whenever they’re on-screen. Milton is a little more developed, though he spends most of his time having one-way communication with Jules, as he voices what’s on television and has monotonous conversations about everyday life.
The combination of Sci-Fi and drama in Jules feels unbalanced, with the Sci-Fi element taking a backseat. Though Jules is the catalyst for Milton’s life wake-up call, the execution of such feels ineffective. Other than sitting around and listening to him vent while consuming vast amounts of apple slices, Jules doesn’t do much else. In fact, sometimes you wonder why the decision to mesh an alien crashing into Milton’s backyard with his life struggles occurs in the first place, as the cause and effect feel disjointed.
That said, Jules’s old-school alien design feels realistic, and the decision to have the extraterrestrial played by a person, as opposed to the film relying on CGI, feels authentic. Credit must also be given to Jade Quon, who doesn’t mutter a word throughout the film but expresses so much emotion through Jules’s facial expressions. It’s just unfortunate the character wasn’t given more to work with.
Overall, Jules’s themes bring some tender moments to the film, but the story’s lack of depth and underdeveloped characters result in a feature that leaves more to be desired. Sadly, not even the performances of the tip-top cast can elevate a rather dull script.
Jules is now available to watch on demand and will be released on DVD on October 10, 2023.