I have lamented, particularly since the lockdowns ended, that while there have been some very good movies, the quality films that I could generally recommend have been very few and far between.
Bitching. I’ve been bitching about it.
Because I don’t see how movie theaters survive with a menu of “hyper-expensive rehash of thing people used to like” and “weirdo art movie that moviegique (and pretty much only moviegique) likes”. Success could come in the form of many more lower budget films that are accessible to a wide variety of people.
But only if they start offering them before people simply rule out going to the movies as an option, which many already have.
Which brings us to Jules: On the plus side, it’s a movie I’d recommend to “general audiences”. It’s not for the hammer-my-body-with-soundwaves crowd, to be sure, but if you like movies about people, it’s a likable one.
Jules is part of the “old guy with non-human friend” genre, which includes 2012’s Robot and Frank and last year’s Brian and Charles (which I also recommend), where a neglected senior citizen finds his life enriched by a robot or, in this case, an alien.
Ben Kingsley plays Milton, a 78-year-old man who’s just starting to show serious signs of dementia. His daughter Denise (Zoe Winters, who’s mostly a stage actress but apparently figures big in something called “Succession”) struggles between trying to take care of him/trying to get him to recognize he needs help, and just ignoring him ’cause he’s kind of an old coot.
Milton goes every week to the town council meetings where he suggests a crosswalk, and that they change the town slogan from “A nice place to call home”—because it could sound like you mean it’s a nice place to call home from (foreshadowing!)—to “A nice place to refer to as ‘home’.”
When the alien ship crashes in his yard, of course, no one believes him.
The contents of the ship are one small, blue, tender-eyed alien. The great character actress Harriet Sanson Harris plays Sandy, the chipper senior citizen who’s set her cap for Milton, and who insists the alien be named “Jules”. (Milton’s attitude is that the alien’s right there, and “he” and “him” are just fine as names.)
Jane Curtin is the too-good-for-this-small-town Joyce, who stumbles across Jules while spying on Milton and Sandy, figuring that they’re up to…some kind of canoodling or something.
Anyway, the three of them get together to try to help Jules get back to his home planet. He doesn’t talk, but he’s very empathetic seeming, so at various points, the three of them pour out their hearts and souls to him.
What’s nice about this genre is it tends to stay away from the mawkish. Like, there’s nothing at Cocoon levels of dramatic intensity. Milton wrestles with confronting his likely undignified end. Sandy has to deal with the crushing disappointment of her daughter (details elided). Joyce kind of just wants credit living her crazy life “in the big city” and getting out of it in time.
It’s sweet and funny and human, and poses the question: Do you stick out life to the bitter end, or do you…I don’t know, take off in an alien spaceship? There’s probably a way to work it out as an allegory but it’s fine if you don’t.
The acting is terrific, of course. The music on point. The writing, directing and editing are all sharp, down-to-business, not a lot of frills, here’s our story, and the whole thing comes in at under 90 minutes.
It’s probably not gonna tear up the box office. But there are parts which, if you have older parents (or you are an older parent) that are howlingly funny, such as Milton trying to explain the TV remotes to Jules, or otherwise wrestling with technology. Sandy’s backstory is full of pathos, cringe and straight-up comedy.
A full version of “Freebird” is sung.
It’s funny. It has incompetent cops and feds which feel very realistic. Heh. It just all works. Is it gonna blow you away? No, probably not, just like it’s probably not going to burn up the box office. But it’s nice. And human. And alien.
And under 90 minutes! A mini-miracle. Moviegique says: Check ‘er out.