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Tribeca 2024: Boys Go to Jupiter Is an Odd Showing of Blender-Made Idiosyncracy

Image courtesy of Glanderco.

Boys Go To Jupiter has easily provided the strangest experience of any film I’ve seen for any film festival so far. That’s not completely a downside—if anything, it speaks to just how deeply specific the charm of this movie is, and how specific its audience is bound to be as it somehow achieves cult-classic-adjacent status. One thing to know about writer-director Julian Glander is that an immediate look at his CV immediately enlightens the kind of vibe he’s going for; a tangibly 3D-modeled, Blender-produced, shape-based animated aesthetic that’s carried him through multiple artistic mediums. Whether that be comic books, video games, 3D illustrations, short films, or even music, Glander’s already proved some kind of capacity for multi-hyphenate curiosity—the kind of thing that inevitably leads to the creation of a feature film at some point, or if not that, at least some kind of a cinematic escapade.

Yet in the first few minutes of Boys Go to Jupiter, some kind of extremely shrill friction emerged between my typical expectations of a 3D-animated full-length feature and what was being presented to me. The oversimplified, minimally-rendered look and feel of the film read to me as less of an aesthetic choice and more of an unfitting budgetary limitation—but the moment the film’s first musical number kicked in, it became just a little easier to ease into the story and its presentation. In it, Rozebud (singer Miya Folick), the heiress to ownership of the Dolphin Groves fruit juicer company, croons over a simple electronic beat while watching a massive citrus tree grow to full size in a matter of seconds. The camera rapidly circles around her while pushing back as the tree becomes absolutely monumental, the electronic music providing an atmosphere that almost perfectly complements this bizarre display of growth. It’s a show of the film operating at its full potential, a display of the full extent of idiosyncratic imagination that Glander wants to strive for.

But Boys Go to Jupiter is definitely a feature that’s much more oriented for the indie-spirit-adjacent, random-quirky inclinations of the Adult Swim crowd (certainly no coincidence, given Glander’s experience with making shorts for Adult Swim in the past as well), which is one that I’ve historically had genuine trouble considering myself a part of. But one thing’s for sure; the Blender-designed animations of Boys Go to Jupiter lend themselves to an imaginative universe, in which the characters inhabiting it can teeter on the edge between a world that emphasizes the absurdity behind the everyday, and a world that also freely indulges in the absurdity behind the zany and literally alien. The latter world, worth mentioning, is one where oranges are sorted based on alliterative criteria and given percentages of quality, and donut-shaped aliens prove themselves to be useful assets in an industry where money offered for those aliens’ abilities is more lucrative than a Grubhub-offshoot app’s glitch that confuses the national currencies of two countries.

A near-perfect orange steadily grows on a tree.
Image courtesy of Glanderco.

Did I also mention that the name of the film’s protagonist is Billy 5000 (Jack Corbett)? There’s a likelihood that his numerical surname is a nickname that he coined for himself, but Billy’s singular goal over the course of Boys Go to Jupiter‘s freewheeling story is simple; hustle his way to $5000 over the course of the summer through his gig for food delivery app Grubster. Accompanied by a ragtag group of three fellow teenagers, and tasked with taking care of Donut, the aforementioned donut-shaped alien, Billy’s occupation, by its own merits, is what structurally lends the story to a series of strange and bizarre encounters with various figures in suburban Florida. Whether that be a motel patron strangely obsessed with trying out every kind of spaghetti and bringing hordes of Grubster deliveries to his door, the extensive farm of an elderly woman and the generationally-passed-down minigolf course she lives right next to, to the monologue-prone drive-through worker of The World’s Largest Hot Dog, Glander ensures that at the very least, the audience never runs out of things to observe.

Housing most of Billy’s most prominent narrative interactions is the juicer company that Rozebud and her mother, Dr. Dolphin (Janeane Garofalo), the latter of whom is obsessed with finding the most convenient ways to experiment with fruits and consistently cultivate the best oranges every known to man. As Billy gets ever closer to reaching his goal of monetarily living up to his surname while learning more about Donut’s capabilities, there’s a narrative that steadily seems to form about wanting to reach one’s own potential, in a way that would be handled with vastly less grace under the command of less assured scribes. Most of its elements seem to contribute to a quirky little sci-fi tale about the dreams we aspire to for our careers and our own selves, the legacies we’re expected to match, and how all of that can change in unexpected ways through unexpected instances. With that in mind, Glander very much seems interested in examining just how far he can reasonably push the word “unexpected,” as well as how that word alone can house a world of untapped creativity.

Yet describing Boys Go to Jupiter and how relatively cohesive its writing is is a vastly different experience from the experience of watching the film and trying to get on its aesthetic wavelength. Yes, it’s a deeply admirable thing for a film of this kind to have been made from what effectively amounts to a two-to-three person-production team while still amassing a cast of relative all-stars: Eighth Grade star Elsie Fisher, Problemista‘s Julio Torres, SNL‘s Sarah Sherman, Adult Swim resident Joe Pera, even Letterboxd-resident multi-hyphenate comedic talent Demi Adejuyigbe. It’s also very hard to draw any real issues to the actual design of the world and its characters, which I mean earnestly; every gesture on this specific front is evidently deliberate, and to that end, suitably complements the kind of story it wants to tell.

But there are moments where the clear limitations of the project’s daunting feature-length scope show—in the infrequently-clumsy pacing of a handful of scenes and musical numbers, in the way wide shots simply refuse to cut in closer and draw attention to what ideally should be emphasized, and in the way that, not quite breaking from the conventions its Blender-made aesthetic, a variety of sequences can often feel more like stitched-together video game cutscenes. A greater presence of more formally exciting choices than those already there could have elevated the world that Glander frames to new aesthetic heights, but the reach of Boys Go to Jupiter‘s charm stalls at the meticulously generated existence of the world itself, never quite extending to how it gets presented and framed for the screen.

Written by James Y. Lee

Student screenwriter, freelance film critic, and member of the Chicago Indie Critics and GALECA. Has likely praised far too many 2010s films as "modern classics." Currently studies film and involved in theatre at Northwestern University.

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