78-year-old Milton (Ben Kingsley) lives in the quiet and cozy town of Boonton, Pennsylvania, where he almost goes through the same routine weekly. He attends the same city council meetings where he suggests changing the town slogan (“A Great Place To Call Home might not be clear”) and building a crosswalk. Like Milton, many of the older residents within director Marc Turtletaub’s Jules, the town has been left to their own devices – children growing older and leading their own lives or sadly have lost their significant others. Milton has two children of his own – a daughter named Denise (Zoë Winters), who runs a vet clinic in town and visits him every so often. She’s beginning to worry about her father’s forgetfulness, to which Milton often brushes those worries off.
The monotony of the day changes when a 1960s-style flying saucer crashes lands in Milton’s backyard (most importantly, his azaleas). At first, the prospect of an alien life form frightens him, and after a while, the appily named Jules seemingly operates within the foreground of this narrative. Turtletaub and writer Gavin Steckler work this sci-fi dramedy in a couple of ways. A small town is a perfect setting for something as monumental as tangible evidence that we are not alone in the universe to occur. In films such as E.T., government entities would be all over it. A subplot of that exists within Jules, but it’s not the main point of the narrative.
For the entirety of the film, the classic grey-looking alien is mute and listens to Milton speak about the prickly situations of his wife while working on its ship and eating apple slices. Fellow town residents Sandy (Harriet Sansom Harris) and Joyce (Jane Curtin) find out about Milton’s traveler friend. As any human would be, there are frightened upon discovering the distant traveler. As the film goes on, the alien melts into the background – often choosing to be a silent listener as each person tells stories about how their family members have almost forgotten about them or are still haunted by the loss of loved ones.
Turtletaub and Steckler use Jules as more of a platform to speak about aging and all the things that come with it than a place to accept the apparent wackiness. A couple of side plots surround the main narrative – mainly comprising of local police who would be on to what is going on and a brief instance of violence Jules inflicts upon a would-be burglar. The second part sticks out like a sour thumb because the film is mostly a tranquil, quiet affair. Kingsley’s performance as Milton is understated and contemplative because we get to see a man that’s laid his life at the feet of going through the day in the same manner – primarily due to the fact of the fear of his cognitive aspects slipping. Curtin plays the opposite of that as Joyce, the nosy neighbor that still has some fire left in her spirit.
Kingsley, Harris, and Curtin come together to bring these personalities together, and Jules itself lends sensitivity to the subject of getting older and seeing much of life pass you by. It’s hard to grasp once the pages on the calendar feel like they're getting shorter. Even with those hard lessons, Turtletaub’s intent is not so much to get in the thick of how hard that could be. It’s much like the science fiction aspects of which the films display glimpses. At points, we see the insides of a government agency that could have been possibly tracking the spacecraft. Then with a sleight of hand, the audience finds out that’s not the case.
Maybe you’ll want to make that call home you’ve contemplated for some time and even get confused at some of the tonal shifts Jules tries to include. Sometimes it takes an extraordinary circumstance to open people up to a new mode of thinking.