"15 to 104 Years Old...Is that a May/December Romance?"
“When Ponce looked in the mirror and realized he hadn’t changed and a single tear came down his face, I lost it.” - George Costanza, Seinfeld. Well, I didn’t lose it during Tuck Everlasting, but I was certainly enchanted by this earnest tale of eternal life. The question that filmdom’s Highlanders have no choice in answering gets the full treatment here in this rather deep children’s film based on the novel by Natalie Babbitt that should captivate all ages.Alexis Bledel (TV’s Gilmore Girls) plays Winnie Foster of the Foster Clan, a rich Southern family in 1914. Her mother, Augusta (Amy Irving), is content to keep her prim and proper, but Winnie has bigger dreams as she hopes for a life beyond her home fence. One morning she ventures through the gates into the vast family-owned woods and stumbles across a young man cleaning himself off in a small tree stream. His name is Jesse Tuck (Jonathan Jackson) and he’s more than a little protective of the water.
Refusing to let her drink, Jesse and his bitter brother, Miles (Scott Bairstow) forces Winnie to come home with them in hopes to protect the secret that by now the audience has already figured out. It’s no great mystery from the title, the water association and the not-so-subtle clues dropped that the Tuck family have discovered a fountain of youth and are forced to move around to protect their ageless quality. Also hot on the trail of the mystery is the Man In The Yellow Suit (Ben Kingsley) whose intentions to help the Fosters get their daughter back may not be entirely honorable.
Who wants to live forever? That central question has been touched upon in literature and movies from Scottish swordsmen to vampires and Tuck Everlasting respects the issue from both sides of the fence. None of the Tucks asked for this blessing (or curse) and Miles has found out the hard truth of finding his own family grow old and die before his eyes. When Jesse and Winnie fall hard for each other, the decision for her to drink and remain 15 forever is weighed against the advice of Tuck patriarch, Angus (William Hurt) who tells her that a “life lived” is far superior than the everyday banality of trying to give purpose to a life without the constrictions of time.
What are delivered though are some fantastic performances across the board, starting with Alexis Bledel in her film debut. The highest compliment you can pay to any actor is to seem natural and that’s exactly what she accomplishes. A role like hers can easily slip into the spoiled rich girl with tomboy aspirations, but Bledel compliments the part by never overdoing it in her scenes of sadness or indifference, playing the character of a 15-year old girl and not an overbrazen filmmaker’s version of one. The immortal Ben Kingsley also adds the appropriate scheming menace without cornering himself into mustache-twirling. Each member of the Tuck clan have their moments, including Sissy Spacek (whose appearance with Amy Irving recalls Carrie from 25 years ago, especially during Jesse & Winnie’s out-of-control dance.)Tuck Everlasting goes for the heartstrings and has several moving moments, but at a paltry 90 minutes doesn’t expand on the pivotal romance that would give it the gravity necessary to deliver the poignant finale. Director Jay Russell (My Dog Skip) keeps the material nice and lean to leave the audience asking the questions of themselves after they leave that he wants them to. But as the romance zooms by us and the crossroads is approached, I couldn’t help think of Natalie Portman in Beautiful Girls saying “wait five years.” After all, there has to be a few advantages to never growing old. Like being able to hit on a 15-year old when you’re over 100.