"Tuck Everlasting," a sweeping romantic fable about love and mortality, targets an audience of girls in their early teens, but has been made with such skill and sensitivity that its appeal spans generations. It surrounds two talented and ingratiating young newcomers to the big screen, Alexis Bledel and Jonathan Jackson, with veteran actors Sissy Spacek, William Hurt, Ben Kingsley, Amy Irving and Victor Garber, all of whom excel in crucial roles.
Director Jay Russell, who did such a winning job in bringing the late Willie Morris' "My Dog Skip" to the screen, does the same with Natalie Babbitt's heralded novel for young people, which has been deftly adapted by Jeffrey Lieber and James V. Hart. Bledel, best known for TV's "Gilmore Girls," plays Winnie Foster, a 15-year-old chafing at the restrictions placed on her by a formidable and proper mother (Irving). The year is 1914, and the setting is a Western wilderness outside the small town of Treegap. The Fosters are the rich aristocrats of the region and live in a fine Victorian mansion in a clearing next to the forest they own.
Despite its rural setting, the Foster home is surrounded by a formal wrought-iron fence as if it were in the heart of town. Headstrong Winnie feels increasingly imprisoned by that fence, and one day she moves beyond it to explore the surrounding woods; she soon encounters Jackson's Jesse Tuck.
The two are instantly taken with each other, but when Jesse's older brother Miles (Scott Bairstow) suddenly appears, he takes the story in an unexpected direction. There is every reason to suspect that Jesse, Miles and their parents (Spacek and Hurt) are moonshiners who want to keep their activities secret. "Tuck Everlasting" emerges as a meditation on the value of mortality and the paramount importance of pursuing a life well-lived. It is also a tremendously evocative film. It captures an America in transition, when a predominantly rural nation gave way to an increasingly urban society. The realization that the Tucks will find it increasingly hard to live in splendid isolation in an Eden on Earth is inescapable.
In re-creating this crucial time of transition in American life, production designer Tony Burrough and his team have done their homework. The Fosters still live in well-upholstered Victorian comfort, which was the case with many wealthy families at that time. Even though their home has been electrified, they have not given up their kerosene lamps because electricity was still unreliable, especially in rural areas. Similarly, when Spacek's Mae Tuck is seen making her way down Treegap's main street in her horse-drawn wagon, she encounters a goodly scattering of automobiles. Mae dresses in timeless farm-woman attire; the gowns designed by Carol Ramsey for Irving's regal Mrs. Foster could have come from Worth of Paris. James L. Carter's camera work brings a uniform glow to the film, a quality enhanced by William Ross' romantic score. Elisabeth Shue serves as the film's unseen narrator.
Spacek and Hurt, and Irving and Garber offer contrasting portraits of parental love, with Bairstow's troubled Miles emerging as the most complex figure among the younger generation. Kingsley, a mysterious stranger in a yellow suit, is an unsettling shrewd and insinuating presence.
As for Bledel, who displays the focus and intensity Reese Witherspoon radiated from the start, and Jackson, who is as relaxed and open as he is handsome, they couldn't ask for a better project than "Tuck Everlasting."
MPAA rating: PG, for some violence. Times guidelines. Themes of death and mortality.
Alexis Bledel...Winnie Foster
William Hurt...Angus Tuck
Sissy Spacek...Mae Tuck
Jonathan Jackson...Jesse Tuck
Scott Bairstow...Miles Tuck
Ben Kingsley...Man in the Yellow Suit
Amy Irving...Mrs. Foster
Victor Garber...Robert Foster
A Walt Disney Pictures presentation. Director Jay Russell. Producer Jane Startz, Marc Abraham. Executive producers Armyan Bernstein, Thomas A. Bliss, William Teitler, Deborah Forte, Max Wong. Screenplay Jeffrey Lieber and James V. Hart; based on the book by Natalie Babbitt. Cinematographer James L. Carter. Editor Jay Cassidy. Music William Ross. Costumes Carol Ramsey. Production designer Tony Burrough. Art director Ray Kluga. Set decorator Catherine D. Davis. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
In general release.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun