Jules intentionally calls to mind E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. The major difference is that instead of a young boy, it’s an older gentleman who has an alien encounter. Two friends substitute for Michael and Gertie, the main character has a daughter rather than a mother, and the creature prefers apples to Reese’s Pieces. Comedies about eccentric senior citizens can be cloying, especially once you throw in a visitor from another planet. Director Marc Turtletaub and writer Gavin Steckler generally avoid that pitfall, giving us a funny story about a bored man whose life suddenly becomes a lot more interesting.

That man is Milton Robinson (Ben Kingsley). He shows up at town council meetings every week to complain about the same problems and to make the exact same points. Also attending these meetings are the vivacious Sandy (Harriet Sansom Harris) and the nosy Joyce (Jane Curtain). One day, a spaceship lands in Milton’s yard. He greets it as an azalea and birdbath-destroying annoyance until an alien, who is dubbed Jules (Jade Quon), emerges injured a couple days later.

Apples and water help nurture the being back to health. Milton then essentially adopts it as a grandchild, letting it watch endless amounts of television and ensuring it has plenty of snacks to eat. His efforts to keep Jules a secret are foiled when Sandy pops by for a surprise visit. Joyce eventually finds out, too. Keeping the lid on the situation becomes harder when Milton’s daughter Denise (Zoë Winters) gets wind of her dad’s curious public behavior and assumes he’s losing his mental acuity.

Part of what makes Jules so amusing is the performance from Quon. The character doesn’t speak, it just stares in wonder at everything going on around it. Buried under makeup, the actress still manages to give it a personality. Humor is generated from how Milton, Sandy, and Joyce treat Jules like a child, buying it presents and giving it old clothing to wear. (The inappropriate t-shirts the women pick out for it are hilarious.) Another big laugh comes from the revelation that Jules has a particular power that is simultaneously terrifying and awesome. We don’t expect it from the alien, so the moment is uproarious.

Kingsley, Harris, and Curtain are smart enough to know they have to play everything as real as possible. Acting as though they’re in a comedy would be catastrophic. Each of them develops a character, then behaves consistently with their personality. This makes the comedy funnier than if they were mugging or winking at the audience. As the lead, Kingsley has the task of selling the idea that Milton develops a bond with Jules. The actor does that by – as he does in every role – turning in sincere, fully-committed work. On her end, Harris does one of the best double-takes in the history of cinema the first time Sandy sees Jules. No, that’s not hyperbole.

Jules isn’t a movie with a profound message to impart. It’s a simple story about three older people in a small Pennsylvania town taking joy at finding excitement again. At the point where life seems to be slowing down, this alien comes along and gives them something to be elated by. That’s a pleasure to watch. Jules is sweet, charming, and often hysterical. It makes you feel good about the world for 90 minutes.

out of four

Jules is rated PG-13 for strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.