Review: Ben Kingsley and His Alien Friend in the Very Strange ‘Jules’

Review: Ben Kingsley and His Alien Friend in the Very Strange ‘Jules’

by Alex Billington
August 11, 2023

Jules Review

“Remember the spaceship? This is the little man who came out of it.” There he is, just sitting there. Eating apples. Saying nothing, doing nothing, watching Milton all day long. What an odd little film. There’s a new sci-fi dramedy playing in theaters now called Jules, made by director Marc Turtletaub. It’s not as wacky or as weird as it sounds, instead it’s a rather wholesome, heartfelt film about lonely elderly people in a small town. Ben Kingsley stars as Milton Robinson, an old man starting to forget things, who befriends this little blue alien. At its core, it’s yet another film about how lonely elderly people are and how much they just need a friend and just need someone to spend their time with. There’s really not much more to it than that. The story is incredibly light and, aside from introducing G-men coming after them to find and arrest the alien, it just focuses on Milton and his friends. Maybe it’s also trying to act as commentary on immigrants moving in to a town and finding company, but if so it would be a half-hearted attempt at telling this kind of story, too.

Jules features a screenplay written by Gavin Steckler, and it’s directed by Marc Turtletaub – whom I’m fond of because I loved his film before this, called Puzzle (my review from Sundance 2018). While this new film may not be as good as Puzzle, Turtletaub certainly knows how to craft minimal, small town storytelling with an extra cinematic spark. Ben Kingsley’s performance is the highlight – his frumpy, kooky, old man look is spot on and his shuffling mannerisms are perfect. He is almost unrecognizable, though that’s not really the point, it’s about believing him as Milton and there’s pretty much nothing to doubt or question. His daughter Denise is played by Zoe Winters, who is a welcome addition to the cast though she doesn’t have much to work with. Her character is underwritten and feels oddly cold and distant, which isn’t her fault when that’s what’s in the script. Finally there’s the alien itself, which they name Jules, played by a 4′ 11″ stunt woman named Jade Quon. She gives an emotionless man-in-suit performance that isn’t as distinct as it could be.

One example of the screenplay’s many shortfalls is the name of the alien itself. Regardless of the fact that the film is titled Jules (it could really be called anything as that title doesn’t mean much), the gendering of the alien is handled quite oddly. Rather, it’s not handled at all. Milton and all of his friends refer to the alien as a “he” throughout the entire film, never once questioning whether this extraterrestrial is really a he or a she or an it or whatever. It’s not entirely necessary to have that conversation, but it’s a bit strange they never once wonder or even try to ask “Jules” if it’s a he or she. It’s also obviously a woman performing under all the make-up and latex, though they try to make it look androgynous, and again that is not really the issue. It has more to do with the script never trying to do anything more besides scratch the surface of a story about loneliness and companionship. The alien is just a gimmick used to tell this story, and the script never wants to address much else. As much as this should be a minimalistic storytelling perk, it ends up being a setback.

On one hand, it is possible to enjoy this light-hearted, quirky sort-of-sci-fi film for what it is – about Milton and his other elderly friends. On the other hand, there’s some frustrating developments in the second half that are hard to overlook. The biggest one involves cats and Jules repairing his/her/its ship. At some point, Jules starts drawing pictures of cats, and Milton and his friends realize there’s a need for cats to help him finish the repairs. Once they figure out what’s going on, the film gets off-putting. This could’ve been handled correctly, with some explanation or soft way of dealing with the situation, but it never does. Once again, the script never wants to deal with any of this. It skirts around all of it, continues it’s subplot with finding cats, and that’s it. Before you know it, the film is over. I’m sure I’m not the only one sitting there thinking, “Huh… Wait? That’s it?” That’s all there is to this film? I guess so. How strange. I’d rather recommend watching The Mole Agent instead, which is also about lonely old people needing more friends, minus the funky little alien.

Alex’s Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter – @firstshowing / Or Letterboxd – @firstshowing


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