It takes a really long, slow, and dreary time to dope out what Tuck Everlasting is about. So here it is: It's about a family of sour immortals.
The Tuck family stumbled upon a natural spring that imparts immortality on those who drink from it. What god dropped the ball and put the Tucks in charge of greedily hiding immortality from everyone else?
We think of immortality as the province of vampires, yet in this tale it belongs solely to a family of poor farmers who do absolutely nothing with the "gift."
It's the summer of 1914 and the Tuck family, Angus (William Hurt), Mae (Sissy Spacek), Miles (Scott Bairstow), and teenaged Jesse (Jonathan Jackson), live secluded and secretive lives in the woods. Jesse and Miles do venture out from time to time to go war and Paris. Miles' young wife and two children did not drink from the spring and leave him. The wife goes crazy and the children die. The "gift" of immortality becomes one of dread. Jesse claims he's 104-years-old and, as the story opens, the family is being hunted by the only man who knows their secret-a man in a yellow suit (Ben Kingsley).
Jesse, still drinking from the haunted spring, is seen by wandering Winnie (Alexis Bledel), the teenaged daughter of the wealthiest man (Victor Garber) in town who also happens to be the owner of the woods. Jesse takes Winnie back to his family and they hold her captive. Winnie's mother (Amy Irving-the only actress considered for stern, anal-retentive roles these days) is impervious and regally frigid and we quickly understand why Winnie comes to like the simplicity of the Tucks and heartthrob Jesse. Winnie wants to stay in the woods. But the dim-witted Tucks don't realize that keeping Winnie for weeks will jeopardize their hideout.
Jesse and Winnie fall in love immediately and he tells her the family secret. A weird plot twist leaves the family facing the horror of immorality. As the family escapes, Jesse tells Winnie to drink from the spring and wait for him to return. Will she? Would you?
We find out and it's rather unsatisfying because it appears, according to the opening scene, that Jesse took his real sweet time getting back to the love of his life.
Not having read the children's classic this movie is based upon, I can only imagine that the screenwriters skipped over the philosophical dimensions posed, but inadequately framed, here. What in the world made the Tucks think they should be the guardians of the spring, or judgmental about what others would do exploiting immortality? After all, they were squatters on the land.
The slow build-up to the big secret, with Jesse arriving in town on a motorcycle and a Federal Express truck in the background, offers some hard won clues. The horror of immortality and the strange lack of "love for life" expressed by the Tucks hampers this Disney movie. What was this illustrious cast thinking? Only Kingsley enjoys his slim role as a man hungry for life and desperate for more of it. No doubt he took this role merely on the fact that his was the only character free of dialogue soggy with homespun platitudes on life and death.
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