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Tuck Everlasting

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Tuck Everlasting

Starring: Jonathan Jackson, Alexis Bledel
Director: Jay Russell
Rated: PG
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: October 2002
Genres: Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: William Hurt, Sissy Spacek, Amy Irving, Victor Garber, Ben Kingsley, Scott Bairstow

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Review by Harvey Karten
3½ stars out of 4

A forty-year-old guy is asked, "Given the illnesses and physical breakdowns that occur during the aging process, would you like to live to 100?" Most of us could not be blamed for answering in the negative, but this guy replies, "Don't ask me: ask the fellow who's 99." I'll give you 8-5 that Mr. 99 would answer in the affirmative. Now let's take a question for which you'll have to give me odds. "You're 17 years old and healthy as a horse. Would you like to live to 104 with the guarantee that you'll always look and feel like 17?"

Jay Russell illustrates some unusual answers to this in adapting Natalie Babbitt's beloved novel to the screen. It's a short book, exactly the kind we in junior high school sought out for book reports much as we would the 101-page "Animal Farm" a couple of years later. The novel was adapted to the big screen in 1980 by Frederick King Keller, and while the current version is twelve minutes shorter, this one not only stands up beautifully but exceeds the Keller version of a sweet and entertaining fable which some parents may nevertheless not want their children to see. Why not? Kids watch their own pets die but somehow, I suspect, those who are under nine years old are in denial. They don't know that one day they will become as old as their great-grandparents and move on. I wonder if their folks would want them to hear the talk given in one scene by a character played by William Hurt because if the youngsters listen closely as they most certainly did during the advance screening I attended they would be faced by the concept that their lives too will have an end.

Jay Russell, whose "My Dog Skip" is one of the best dog- centered films since "Lassie Come Home," frames the action, opening and closing with a mysterious motorcyclist's entry into a modern village in search of a lost love. Cut to 1914: the home of the wealthy Fosters whose fifteen-year-old daughter Winnie (Alexis Bledel) is corseted in both body and mind, a gamin eager for release from the environs of her Edwardian parents (played by Amy Irving and Victor Garber). Rebelling against being placed into a finishing school five hundred miles away, she bolts into the woodlands, the first to discover a group of Thoreauvians, particularly her love-at-first-sight man who is just eighty-seven years her senior, Jesse Tuck (Jonathan Jackson) but who's counting? She learns later into the story of the secret of his youthful appearance: Jesse and his brother Miles (Scott Bairstow), his parents Angus (William Hurt) and Mae (Sissy Spacek), are ageless. Having drunk from a mysterious stream, they are frozen in time at the age in which they first drank, cannot die or be killed, and they like flapjacks (even though they presumably did not have to bother with the pedestrian duties of dining). A twentieth century Ponce de Leon in the form of The Man in the Yellow Suit (Ben Kingsley) knows about the stream and will do anything to locate its whereabouts.

Slight though the story may be, Russell draws us into the action, holding out on the secret of the water until well into the story to give cinematographer James L. Carter the opportunity to cast the town of Berlin, Maryland (called Treegap) as a pristine woodland filled with a place to swim just under a waterfall, green as far as the eye could see, and a temptation to President Bush to take the land and lease it to the timber interests. The question that could keep the audience on their edge of their seats even more than could a Jerry Bruckheimer production is, will Winnie drink from this spring, remain fifteen forever, and spend her eternity with the love of her life? As Angus Tuck speaks to her while rowing out to the middle of a lake, telling her how life is a Ferris wheel, the old folks making room for the new generation, and how someone with eternal life is like a rock sitting unchanged for centuries, I wanted to call out, "Don't listen to this guy! He doesn't even have the manners to take a shave before talking to a young lady!"

What, then, would you do, if you were in Winnie's shoes? Would you choose to romp about with the playful and handsome Jesse, the first guy you ever wanted to kiss? Or would you prefer to go back to your stuffy family, have the maid help you torture yourself with your corset, go to a suffocating finishing school, get married, have kids and die?

The answer is so obvious that, well, leave it to novelist Natalie Babbitt and scripters Jeffrey Lieber and James V. Hart to pull the rug out from under us. "Tuck Everlasting" is a charmer in every way, from the adorable twenty-one year old TV star, Alexis Bledel, making her film debut, to the classic narration of Elisabeth Shue, to the breathtaking scenery and it's not even filmed near Vancouver!

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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