Last night Hollywood Elsewhere sat down with Marc Turtletaub‘s Jules (Bleecker Street), a quiet little fable about a vaguely flaky, absent-minded old guy (Ben Kingsley) who gradually blooms emotionally and spiritually when a smallish flying saucer crashes into his backyard garden and a wounded, pint-sized, shiny-skinned alien (Jade Quon) crawls out and lies on his brick patio, breathing but in need of care.
Kingsley’s Milton, whose longish, carefully styled gray hair looks exactly like a professional-grade wig, is so timid and small-minded that he waits a day to start caring for the poor, dark-eyed thing, who doesn’t seem to have a gender. (Let’s use the female pronoun.) At first Milt drapes a plaid blanket over the little gal, and then takes her inside and begins offering sliced apples for sustenance, and then shows Jules the guest bedroom and invites her to chill and watch TV.
After Milt’s friend Sandy (Harriet Sansom Harris) drops by and begins to warmly relate, the alien is given the “Jules” moniker (as in Jules Pfeiffer or a nickname for Julia). Milt and Sandy quickly become Jules’ parents, and then in short order they’re being assisted by Joyce (Jane Curtin), a vaguely neurotic acquaintance who starts talking to Jules as if she’s her therapist, sharing stories of her colorful youth in Pittsburgh (“I used to be an item”) and, in an odd detour, performing Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “Free Bird” a capella.
Immediately all kinds of E.T.-type questions pop into your head. You have to assume that with all those consumed apples that Jules would use the bathroom from time to time or at least take an occasional leak outside, but details are never shared.
In no particular order: Does Jules take showers? What does she smell like? She has a smallish mouth plus, one presumes, a tongue, teeth, lungs and vocal chords so why doesn’t she mimic Milt with a little alien English, or perhaps speak in his/her own native tongue? Why was she travelling alone? What was the point of visiting earth in the first place? Is she fundamentally a woke type or does she view the human condition with (God forbid) the mindset of a Trump supporter? Is she broken-hearted over the recent death of an alien husband or child?
All we learn is that the enterprising Jules is looking to repair her spacecraft, and that she needs a few dead cats to accomplish this. We also see that she cares a great deal for Milt, Sandy and Joyce, and woe to any scurvy characters who might threaten any of them (think David Cronenberg‘s Scanners).
HE to friendo: “Jules doesn’t quite come together. The alien characteristics are too E.T.-ish…they aren’t particular or developed enough, and Kingsley, whom we want to believe is sharper than his awful nagging daughter (Zoë Winters) believes him to be, too often underwhelms with his deadpan, doltish reactions to things.
“But basically it’s not half bad. And there needs to be widespread acknowledgment that Harriet Sansom Harris is fairly WONDERFUL with the emotional empathy stuff. I was saying to myself ‘wow, she’s out-shining Kingsley here!’ And Curtin’s Lynyrd Skynyrd moment, strange and out-of-nowhere as it is, is goofy fun.”
Friendo: “Curtin’s karaoke moment is completely gratuitous. And yes, the Kingsley character is boring. Harris is good but she’s still playing a cliched role. For all its wee charms and whimsies I thought Jules never got there.
HE: “It needed a slight rewrite with an emphasis on more weird humor and perhaps a few hints about Jules’ backstory and a few explanations about her physical functions.”
Friendo: “Kingsley’s Milton needed layering. More than just gently befuddled, slow on the pickup, living in his own head, less than fully engaged.”
HE: “Imagine if they made Milton into a mellowed-down 70something with a belligerent and possibly criminal past. An ex-Don Logan type who’s calmed down with advanced age, perhaps due to having become a born-again Christian or a therapeutic convert of some kind. And then his cagey, tough-guy instincts are reactivated by his protective affection for Jules. That would be fantastic.”
Friendo: “That would be an actual movie.”
HE: “I saw it with about 10 or 12 people from a local Downs Syndrome community. They were laughing really loudly during the trailers (uh-oh) but they calmed right down when Jules began. They were touched. I could feel it.”
Friendo: “The smile on Kingsley’s face at the very end is a wee bit touching.
HE: “The ending suggested on some level that the alien visitation was happening in their heads. Which makes no sense, of course, but why would Jules return? To get Kingsley to change his mind about leaving the earth?”
Friendo: “The whole is-it-happening-in-his-head thing is, of course, something that occurs to you from the beginning (given Milton’s mental issues), but they never follow through on it.”
HE: “Which is another weakness.”