by Hope Madden
Milton (Ben Kingsley) walks to every town council meeting to recommend, when the time comes for citizen suggestions, that the town change its motto from “a good place to call home” to “a good place to refer to as home” in case it confuses people looking for somewhere to phone home.
He’d also like to see a crosswalk on Trent Avenue between Frost and Allegheny.
Oh, and an alien spaceship crash landed in his backyard and took out most of his azaleas, so if anyone knows what to do about that…
Director Marc Turtletaub, working from a script by Gavin Steckler, reimagines E.T. with his charming suburban sci-fi, Jules. Rather than a group of kids determined to hide their alien friend from grownups, its Milton, Sandy (Harriet Sansom Harris) and Joyce (Jane Curtin) – three elderly singles – doing the same.
Because the truth is, it would be hard for kids to pull something like this off nowadays. In the Eighties, sure – nobody was watching us then. But today? No, the innocents who go unnoticed these days are in their eighties.
The cleverness of the concept is bittersweet, as are the performances. Curtin’s a hoot and Kingsley’s characteristically spot-on, but it’s Harris’s open, joyful performance that holds the story together.
The veteran actors immediately gel as three lonesome individuals who come together over the shared fascination and protectiveness brought out by their new friend, Jules. Or Gary. Joyce thinks he looks more like a Gary.
A line running through the film parallels the wild circumstances with aging, and in particular, with dementia. Naturally, Milton’s behavior is not taken seriously and rather considered proof that he may need to be looked after. The fact that there is some truth to that worry haunts the film and adds texture to the otherwise lighthearted antics.
Turtletaub can’t quite pull those threads together, though. While Jules is a lovely film, its big-hearted take on mental health and science fiction made me just want to watch Colin West’s somewhat similar but vastly superior Linoleum again.
Still, Jules is a dear, gentle film that gets in some decent laughs.