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TUCK EVERLASTING(director: Jay Russell; screenwriters: from a novel by Natalie Babbitt/Jeffrey Lieber/James V. Hart; cinematographer: James L. Carter; editor: Jay Lash Cassidy; music: William Ross; cast: Alexis Bledel (Winnie Foster), Jonathan Jackson (Jesse Tuck), Amy Irving (Mother Foster), Victor Garber) (Robert Foster), Sissy Spacek (Mae Tuck), William Hurt (Angus Tuck), Ben Kingsley (Man in the Yellow Suit), Scott Bairstow (Miles Tuck), Richard Pilcher (Constable); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Marc Abraham/Jane Startz; Walt Disney Pictures; 2002)
“It’s a charming story.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A rather dark and thought-provoking fairy-tale story from the Walt Disney people, as directed by Jay Russell (“My Dog Skip“) from a novel by Natalie Babbitt. The film ends up asking the viewer: If given a chance to become an immortal, would you take it? The story centers around the good-natured hillbilly Tuck family, living in complete freedom and isolation in the woods in an upstate New York community called Treegap, who accidentally drank in the early years of the 19th century from a spring of water and found they were made eternal–frozen in time from the moment they drank from the spring. Angus (Hurt) is the father, Mae (Spacek) the mother, the oldest son is Miles (Bairstow), and the youngest lad is the good-looking 17-year-old who should be 104, Jesse (Jackson). It’s a charming story, but everything looks so manufactured and feels so blah that it’s easy to ignore its moral dilemma raised and its make-believe inoffensive love story as being just so much horse feathers and artificial melodrama.

The wealthiest and most uptight family in Treegap are the Fosters, who own the whole forest and exploit the land to gain their wealth. Their only child is a frustrated 15-year-old girl, Winnie Foster (Alexis Bledel), who rebels against her overbearing parents (Amy Irving and Victor Garber) for not allowing her to have any fun, to never go outside alone beyond the house’s iron gates, and insisting she attends an exclusive boarding school in faraway Pittsfield to learn how to be a proper lady. Running away in the woods she stumbles upon Jesse drinking some of that refreshing Ponce de Leon water (why he’s still gulping the magical water down when only one shot of it does the trick, is a mystery to me!), and when his sullen brother Miles moseys on by — the girl is brought to the Tucks’ log cabin hidden in the woods because he’s afraid she’ll blab about their secret. Winnie is treated with love by the Tucks and is shown how the eternals live the easy life without a worry about dying. She and Jesse naturally fall in love in an innocent Disney way, and she sees how nurturing and warm-hearted family life can be. Though she also observes how living forever has its drawbacks: Miles is angry because he can’t die while his beloved wife and kids who deserted him for being a freak, died from old age refusing to drink the magical water; Angus feels he has become dead like a rock and is watching life go by in an unnatural way. Mae and Jesse, if you don’t mind me offering my two cents worth of observations, seem like nice rubes but they are dull and unimaginative and their immortal gift seems wasted on them.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

The constable and his men search the woods to no avail but a mysterious and menacing unnamed stranger (Ben Kingsley) with a villainous silent movie mustache from the time the story was set in 1914 and who is adorned in a modern Deon Sanders yellow pimp suit, is in the woods attempting to track down the Tuck family and sees the missing girl as a way for him to get what he’s looking for. He gets lucky when he spots Miles getting kicked out of the town saloon, and follows him home. The Man in the Yellow Suit makes a deal with Mr. Foster to get ownership of the entire forest if he retrieves Winnie from her kidnappers, as he has his own agenda. He simply wishes to get a hold of that fountain of youth his mother told him she heard an old lady in a loony bin ranting about, as he wishes to run a lucrative tourist business by selling drinks of water to those searching for eternal youth. As the film concludes, it leaves the heroine a choice – drink from the fountain and gain the promise of everlasting life and love with Jesse, or live life knowing that you will die. The movie goer also has a choice: whether he or she thinks this film is really for teenagers with braces, or for philosophy majors from N.Y.U., or for romantics who don’t believe in sex and eternal love but believe in saving themselves for whatever is squeaky-clean by not going against God’s wishes.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”