For those parents planning to take their young children to see "Tuck
Everlasting," based on the novel by Natalie Babbitt, they may well
be in for a surprise. A decidedly grim fantasy-drama about life, death,
and the possible consequences of gaining immortality, the film will
undoubtedly bore or confound those under the age of 10. For all other
audience members, there are several thought-provoking themes and positive
messages to munch on, but that is nearly all it has to offer. As directed
by Jay Russell (2000's "My Dog Skip") and adapted for the screen by
James V. Hart and Jeffrey Lieber, the solid premise of "Tuck Everlasting"
holds epic notions that such a slight, small-scale production cannot
withhold. The result is a well-meaning, even occasionally effective,
failure that never fully discovers its footing.
Set mostly in the fateful summer of 1914, Winnie Foster (Alexis Bledel)
is a misunderstood 15-year-old girl who has begun to feel smothered
by her strict, extremely wealthy parents (Amy Irving, Victor Garber).
Never having had the chance to venture outside the gates of her Victorian
mansion by herself, she escapes one day into the woods. It is there
that she meets Jesse Tuck (Jonathan Jackson), sipping water from under
a magical tree that has given himself and his family--parents Mae
(Sissy Spacey) and Angus (William Hurt) and older brother Miles (Scott
Bairstow)--ageless immortality. Fearing that Winnie's discovery will
unleash their century-old secret upon the world, they have no choice
but to force her to stay with them at their cabin deep in the forest.
As Winnie begins to fall in love with Jesse and sympathize with the
Tucks' plight, she must make the decision of whether she wants to
live forever in a state of timelessness with Jesse, or follow the
normal process of lif! e and death as things are meant to be.
"Tuck Everlasting" is a perfect example of a motion picture that is
both original and intriguing, but does not develop its story, characters,
or their relationships in a sufficient manner. The result is something
that, for all of its individual moments of beauty and gentle allure,
fails to satisfy or engage us in the emotional manner it wants to.
Clocking in at 90 minutes, the film rushes through much of its story
and includes a thoroughly extraneous subplot involving a mystery man
(Ben Kingsley) who has caught on to the family's secret and is in
the midst of conspiring with Winnie's parents to track them down.
Whenever the focus pulls back from Winnie and the Tuck family to follow
Kingsley, the uneven machinations of the plot consistently show through.
In her audacious film debut, Alexis Bledel (TV's "Gilmore Girls")
has been given the daunting task of carrying the heart of the movie
on her shoulders. As the curious and confused Winnie, Bledel makes
for an exquisitely worthy protagonist, and the freshness she brings
in tackling her character is truly fetching. Credit Bledel and co-star
Jonathan Jackson (2002's "Insomnia"), as Jesse Tuck, for making their
decidedly undernourished romance as charismatic and joyfully innocent as it is.
For the most part, all of the other characters take a back-seat to
Winnie and Jesse. Coming off of an Oscar nomination for 2001's "In
the Bedroom," Sissy Spacek is criminally wasted as the empathetic
Mae Tuck. Save for a touching scene in which his Angus Tuck discusses
the subject of death with Winnie, the same could be said for William
Hurt (2002's "Changing Lanes"). In the one-note role of the Tuck family's
hunter, Ben Kingsley (2001's "Sexy Beast") has been cursed with being
the major hapless reason for why the rest of the picture does not
gel sufficiently. Finally, Amy Irving (2002's "Thirteen Conversations
About One Thing") brings much-needed depth to Winnie's emotionally
frigid mother in the final act, while the ongoing narration, although
unnecessary, is effectively read by Elisabeth Shue (2000's "Hollow Man").
"Tuck Everlasting" gets better as it proceeds. The opening twenty
minutes, for example, are a collection of messily thrown-together
scenes in search of a focal point, while the final ten are genuinely
poignant and conclude the story threads rather gracefully. Visually
gorgeous, the idyllic cinematography (by James L. Carter) includes
breathtaking landscapes and countryside vistas, all rendered in peacefully
golden hues. At the same time, the final product is an uneven experience,
lacking the urgency needed to become altogether involving. In the
case of "Tuck Everlasting," its parts are infinitely better than its whole.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman