Tuck Everlasting is this fall’s serious release from Disney studios. It’s sold as an “epic” story about a family of immortals and a girl who discovers their secret.
Far from being epic, the story is simple, sparse, and boring, but it does have two saving graces. First, the film is built on an interesting dilemma, and second, there are promising performances from new talent.
The Secret Fountain
PG for some violence
The setting is Treegap, a rural village somewhere in America in the summer of 1914. Winnie (Alexis Bledel) lives with her parents in a grand house by the woods.
Seeking solace in the woods, Winnie comes across Jesse (Jonathan Jackson), washing his face in a spring at the base of a giant tree. Jesse tries to get her to leave, but with her stubborn and curious nature, she stays a moment too long. Miles (Scott Bairstow), Jesse’s brother, arrives on horseback and kidnaps Winnie, taking her to the family’s cabin.
The Tucks (William Hurt and Sissy Spacek round out the family as father and mother) are immortal because they drank from the spring by the tree. It is a fountain of youth. Once you drink from it, you stay the same age forever.
The family wants keep the fountain secret, even if it means killing anyone who discovers it, but none of them has the heart to kill Winnie.
Winnie doesn’t know why she’s being held, but as their “guest,” she couldn’t be happier. She falls in love with Jesse, and the rest of the Tuck family is so good to her that she loses track of time. Besides, she doesn’t want to return home because she will be sent to boarding school.
The film has two primary conflicts. The first conflict is caused by the arrival of a regrettably cartoonish villain played by Ben Kingsley. This Ponce de Leon in a yellow suit suspects that there is a secret to eternal youth around these parts, and he will do anything to find it. Tuck Everlasting might have been a better film without this shallow and obvious subplot.
The real conflict, the most interesting one, is whether Winnie will choose to live forever with the Tucks. On the one hand Winnie could explore every last detail of the world and spend forever with Jesse. However, the essence of life is change, and to live unchanging is not to live at all, but merely to exist. “Don’t be afraid of death, Winnie,” William Hurt says, “be afraid of the unlived life.” In the trailer that line sounds corny, but in the film it captures an entire philosophy.
Heartthrobs and Oscars
The film’s two young stars, Jackson and Bledel, give fine performances. Neither is cast in a particularly demanding role, but both have enough presence to hold your attention for two hours. Jackson, who gained fame on daytime TV, has teen heartthrob looks that will appeal to the movie’s target audience — girls. Bledel’s strong, independent and pretty Winnie will also attract this audience.
The only disappointing performance comes from Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley. The Man in the Yellow Suit is a poorly written, two-dimensional character, but Kingsley doesn’t even try to flesh out the role. Kingsley portrayed outstanding villains in Sexy Beast and Death and the Maiden. But here, he lets his costume do all the work. Instead of menace, he merely projects impatience.
Indeed, impatience is what Tuck Everlasting invoked in me. The interesting scenes in the movie are too few and far between. Tuck Everlasting has some interesting plot elements and will appeal to girls and their families, but I was relieved to see Everlasting end.