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'Tuck Everlasting'

'Tuck Everlasting' goes slow in favorite children's tale

Friday, October 11, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Published a mere 27 years ago, Natalie Babbitt's novel "Tuck Everlasting" earns the kind of veneration from its young (and formerly young) readers usually reserved for books of more en-during vintage.

 
 
'TUCK EVERLASTING'

RATING: PG for some violence.

STARRING: Alexis Bledel, William Hurt, Sissy Spacek, Jonathan Jackson, Ben Kingsley.

DIRECTOR: Jay Russell.

Critic's call:

   
 

Disney, which has created some instant family classics of its own through the years, would seem a likely choice to success-fully adapt the story into a movie.

Certainly, no one can quibble about the cast: Oscar winners William Hurt, Sissy Spacek and Ben Kingsley and attractive young actors Alexis Bledel (of TV's "Gilmore Girls") and Jonathan Jackson (formerly of "General Hospital"). The direc-tor, Jay Russell, previously helmed the estimable "My Dog Skip."

But this "Tuck" proves ever-lasting chiefly in the time it seems to take to tell the tale. Al-though the movie runs only about an hour and a half, the un-folding of the theme -- and the revelation of the Tuck family's miraculous yet troubling secret -- proceeds as if we had all the time in the world.

But would that be a good thing? Such questions form the philosophical underpinnings of the story, set in 1914. Winnie Fos-ter (Bledel), a rich man's daughter yearning to escape the stifling overprotectiveness of her parents, runs into the woods be-hind her home and meets the charming Jesse Tuck (Jackson) and his gruff older brother, Miles (Scott Bairstow).

Like a fugitive on the run, Miles hustles Jesse and Winnie to the Tuck homestead deeper in the woods. Mother Tuck (Sissy Spacek) couldn't be nicer. The fa-ther (William Hurt) is friendly but seems preoccupied. They can't let Winnie go home just yet, it seems.

Their caution is well founded. The boys have been followed into the general vicinity by a charac-ter known only as the Man in the Yellow Suit (Ben Kingsley), who seems to know what they are hid-ing and appears to have sinister designs.

What are they concealing? Di-rector Russell and screenwriter Jeffrey Lieber and James V. Hart choose to treat it like a big mys-tery that would spoil the film and shatter its delicate spell if re-vealed too soon. In fact, the movie's natural constituency -- those who have read the book -- already know. Even those who don't know are likely to figure it out before the movie actually tells us.

Partly as a result, the movie never quite realizes the magical air to which it aspires. By delay-ing the inevitable, it takes too long to address the heart of the matter -- an exploration of whether the seemingly blessed state of the Tuck family is indeed something to be devoutly wished, although most of us likely would join them in a wink if given the chance.

The experience of the Tucks is enough to make Winnie think about it, though, and her ultimate deci-sion is by no means certain until the very end.

The movie revolves around the young people, leaving Spacek and Kingsley with less screen time than we might like. Hurt gets more to do -- one of the key scenes takes place in a boat on the lake, in which he dis-cusses with Winnie the advantages and disadvantages of being a Tuck.

One of the advantages -- this movie wouldn't feel long to them.


Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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