`Tuck' soars with simple, believable magic

Movie Reviews

October 11, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Charming has devolved into almost a pejorative these days, but Tuck Everlasting is the sort of film that could change that.

There's simply no other word to describe this gossamer-winged ode to love and death, an adaptation of Natalie Babbitt's 1975 novel that doesn't aspire to big truths as much as gentle persuasions and atmospheric pleasures. While a reliance on simplistic dialogue - the phrase "I wish this moment could last forever" should have been banned long ago - and a rather gaping logic hole in the final act keeps the movie from soaring the way it tries to, the talented cast (including three Oscar winners) and straight-ahead storytelling make for the best kind of family viewing.

The year is 1914. Our heroine, Winifred "Winnie" Foster (Alexis Bledel, of TV's Gilmore Girls), is one of those free-spirited privileged girls of years gone by, a little spitfire whose straight-laced parents are forever trying to quell her flame. When young Winnie actually takes to playing baseball with a group of street urchins, her loving but unimaginative mother (Amy Irving) has had enough. It's off to a faraway boarding school for Winifred.

Such exile, of course, doesn't sit well with Winnie, and she decides to run away - or, at least, go exploring in the distant vestiges of the forestland her father owns (many of the scenes were shot in Harford County, which looks utterly bucolic). And it's there that she first spies young Jesse Tuck (Jonathan Jackson).

Viewers have already been introduced to the Tucks, a family of Scottish immigrants, and know they're more than they seem. Determined to live as quietly as possible, they've taken to living on the outskirts of civilization - and housing sites are becoming scarcer and scarcer, what with land being bought up and those newfangled automobiles taking people hither and yon.

Winnie, however, knows nothing of this. All she knows is that this is one cute guy, and when curiosity gets the better of her and she's spotted, things get a little scary. Jesse's embittered older brother, Miles (Jesse Barstow), grabs her and takes her to the family home, where it's up to mother Tuck (Sissy Spacek) to earn Winnie's trust and father Tuck (William Hurt) to decide what will happen to her.

Not that she's in any real danger; the Tucks are good people. But they don't want their presence known.

Meanwhile, back in town, Winifred's parents are growing frantic, wondering what has happened to their daughter. And there's this mysterious man in a yellow suit (Ben Kingsley) strolling around, asking priests what they'd be willing to give up for immortality and just basically giving everyone the creeps.

Director Jay Russell, whose previous effort was the delightful My Dog Skip, manages to keep the film's tone properly wistful but never lets it become awash in cheap sentiment. As Winnie, Bledel is beautiful and impetuous and never less than believable, while Jackson is earnest as Jesse. But it's old pros Kingsley, Spacek and Hurt, along with Irving and Victor Garber as Winifred's parents, who give Tuck Everlasting its lift.

True, there's a problem near the end, as an important plot development hinges on a misunderstanding of events that could have been cleared up instantly. Still, the simple magic of this movie is well-nigh irresistible; suffice to say that the pleasures on view here could prove as everlasting as the story.

Tuck Everlasting

Starring Alexis Bledel, Jonathan Jackson, Sissy Spacek

Directed by Jay Russell

Rated PG (mild violence)

Released by Walt Disney Pictures

Time 90 minutes

SUN SCORE * * *

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