Based on the award-winning children’s novel by Natalie Babbitt the story is set in 1914 as Winnie Foster (Alexis Bledel) a rich girl on the brink of maturity longs for change in her life. Her domineering mother (Amy Irving) has plans to turn her into a respectable lady but Winnie is one spirited lass who wants nothing to do with the rigid conformities of her time. In fact she’d much rather escape into the woods surrounding her house. Getting lost one day Winnie stumbles upon Jesse Tuck (Jonathan Jackson) a boy unlike any she’s ever met before. He and his family–father Angus (William Hurt) mother Mae (Sissy Spacek) and brother Miles (Scott Bairstow)–live hidden away in a little cabin on a lake and they warmly accept her as one of their own. Winnie realizes the Tucks are different ageless somehow but once Winnie starts to experience the Tucks’ freedom and simple way of life she contemplates never going home. That and the fact she and Jesse have fallen in love. Still the Tucks harbor a powerful secret no one else must know about–ever–but an evil man (Ben Kingsley) tracks them down threatening to expose them and profit from the “secret.” Luckily things have a way of working out for the Tucks one way or another. It is Winnie who ends up making the tough decisions–life forever with her beloved Jesse or a life with a beginning a middle and an end. Sure I could come right out and tell you what the film’s big secret is but then that might spoil the fun of finding out for yourself (although I’ve given plenty of clues).
The fresh new talent of Bledel Jackson and Bairstow adds to the film’s youthful appeal while the veteran actors compliment them nicely. Bledel best known for the WB’s Gilmore Girls plays Winnie with the right amount of fiery spirit and endless curiosity while Jackson with those full lips and floppy hair plays the love-struck Jesse perfectly. You believe instantly that Jesse has fallen deeply in love with Winnie; however it’s Bledel‘s performance where there is a problem. She is great at being the spunky Winnie but is somewhat stiff and unconvincing as the smitten one which takes away from the film’s romantic scope a bit. Bairstow is quite good as brother Miles a character who shows how the Tucks’ “secret” has a dark side. When he tells Winnie the truth about his family and how damaging it has been to him it is a moving and powerful scene. Kingsley as the malevolent Man in the Yellow Suit (that’s the character’s name I swear) expertly plays upon the film’s main theme: the wish by most humans to be able to live forever. Kingsley‘s greedy eyes tell it all. Hurt and Spacek do a nice job as the simplistic elder Tucks while Irving and Victor Garber deftly play the contrast as Winnie’s parents. Each however show how they love their children and will protect them at all costs.
Tuck is definitely one of the more beautiful films to watch certainly up there with other such children’s stories as The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. Shot in the wooded areas of Maryland the film is full of lush green tones and spectacular vistas. Director Jay Russell is no stranger to heartwarming films having directed the endearing My Dog Skip and knows how to deal with environment. Watching the two young lovers running through tall grass or jumping into pool with a cascading waterfall honestly would make any girl want to go into the woods to find a handsome guy who’ll sweep her off her feet. Russell handles the romantic elements as well. Careful not to make it too melodramatic he sweeps you up into the magic of the story while delving into the film’s moral dilemmas and life choices the characters must deal with. Unfortunately he can’t bring out the best performance from his leading actress but the rest of the film makes up for it.