To start off, I did not grow up reading this book. My dad starting reading it to me back in 2002 when the movie came out but we never finished it. But looking back I now wish we had because nowadays I’m kind of obsessed with this story after my college student’s childhood nostalgia made me want to watch the movie again and give the book another try. This also coincided with the news that a musical version was coming out. It has since become one of my favorite stories.
Tuck Everlasting (2016)
I was excited about this musical coming out but my hopes were dashed with the news that it closed after roughly a month on Broadway after receiving mixed reviews. The couple or so reviews that I read said that the musical was not particularly bad but was not destined to be a great success. Curious as to why this musical I was so excited for was such a big flop, I bought the soundtrack off of itunes and gave it a listen. The music was very good, not quite Hamilton, but I enjoyed it.
The story follows that of the original book. Judging from the book’s plot, the songs, and details I gleaned off of the internet, the story goes as followed: In 1808, Angus Tuck, his wife Mae and their two sons Miles and Jesse drink from a spring whose waters give eternal life to whoever drinks from it (Prologue). Years later in 1893, eleven year old Winnie Foster wants to get out of the house, something she has not been able to do in a while because her family is in mourning for her father, and go to a traveling fair which has come to town. The whole “I’m spunky and bored with my restrictive Victorian life” part of Winnie’s character works better when she is a little girl than it does in the 2002 movie, where she is a teenager who really should grow the fuck up but I’ll get to that later. A line I find funny from the big opening number “Live Like This” in which Winnie describes her boredom and her longing for free, goes something like this “I wish I had wings, I’d look good with a pair. If wings are too much at least give me the pair,” or at least that’s how I heard it. A lyric video corrected later me and it most likely says “give me the fair” but I had a chuckle the first time because it sounded like Winnie, like most eleven year old girls, longs for the day she has boobs. My suspicion that they were trying to add some boob innuendo is still strong. But enough of my filthy minded ramblings. Meanwhile, Mae Tuck reunites with her sons, the grumpy Miles and the happy-go-lucky Jesse, played by the twee but endearing Andrew Keenan Bolger, after a ten year separation. Also, the man in the yellow suit, the barker of the traveling fair , has come to come looking for something unspecified. Winnie, after bringing a toad into the house, is not allowed to go to the fair and decides to rebel by running off to explore the woods outside of her house (Good Girl Winnie Foster Parts 1 and 2.) There she finds Jesse Tuck drinking from the spring. He tries to prevent her from drinking as well and distracts her from her curiosity by getting her to climb trees with him (Top of the World.) Jesse’s mother Mae and brother Miles take Winnie away with them because they fear she knows about the spring.
Because of Winnie’s disappearance, the town constable and his bumbling trainee deputy Hugo are sent to look for her (Hugo’s First Case parts 1 and 2.) The constable and Hugo, specifically Hugo, serve as comic relief. Back at the Tuck house, Mae, Miles and Jesse explain to Winnie about the spring and how it has prevented them from aging and dying (The Story of the Tucks) and decided to keep her with them until they know they can trust her not to reveal their secret . Mae reminisces to her sons about the day she and their father fell in love (My Most Beautiful Day). Winnie grows fond of the Tucks, specifically Jesse, who brings her to the fair disguised as a boy (Partners in Crime.) The two realize that they are kindred spirits and perhaps meant to be together. Jesse asks Winnie to drink from the spring when she turns seventeen, the age he was when he drank and therefore has stayed, so they can be married and see the world together (Seventeen.) This is the closest thing there is to a romantic scene, although obviously they do not kiss or anything because someone who is supposed to be seventeen kissing an eleven year old is icky and they probably were not allowed to because Sarah Charles Lewis, who played Winnie, was eleven/twelve years old at the time and Andrew Keenan Bolger was thirty. This scene would be creepy if it, and Andrew Keenan Bolger, were not so goddamn adorable. But the man in the yellow suit overhears them and learns about the spring. He gloats about how he’s going to use the spring water to make a fortune (Everything’s Golden.)
Winnie decides to accept Jesse’s offer and anxiously awaits the day she can drink from the spring ( Seventeen Reprise.) Miles tells her about his tragic backstory, which was alluded to in The Story of the Tucks. He was once married and had a son but his wife left him and took the son away when she found out about the Tuck family immortality (Time.) This is why Miles is such a grump. Part of the reason why Jesse wants Winnie to drink from the spring is so that he would not have to spend his eternal life alone (Time Quartet.) The plot thickens when the man in the yellow suit gets the rights to the forest from the Foster family in exchange for telling them their daughter’s whereabouts. The Constable and Hugo decide that he is a scumbag (Everything’s Golden Reprise/You Can’t Trust a Man.)
Angus Tuck takes Winnie for a ride in a rowboat and shares his belief that death is a part of life and should not be feared with the implication that she should not drink from the spring and live a normal life instead (The Wheel.) While getting water from the spring to give to Winnie, Jesse is confronted by the man in the yellow suit, who tells him that he was been searching for the Tucks for years after hearing stories about them from his grandmother, who was told them by a friend (Miles’s ex wife.) He offers the Tuck family a chance to be in on his scheme to sell the water and threatens Winnie when they refuse to let him have the spring. Mae pistol whips him with a shotgun to protect Winnie, thus killing him and being in danger of being hung for murder (The Story of the Man in the Yellow Suit.) After the Tucks break Mae out of jail, Jesse gives Winnie a vial of the spring water to drink when she grows up. She ponders whether or not she should drink it, eventually deciding to live a short but full instead (Everlasting.) Winnie grows up, marries Deputy Hugo, and goes on to live a long and fulfilling life. Many years later, the Tucks return and find Winnie’s gravestone (The Wheel (Finale).) This is one of the big tearjerk moments especially when Jesse starts singing a reprise of The Wheel.
From what I’ve seen of this musical, it is very enjoyable and the performances are very good. The performance of Sarah Charles Lewis was particularly impressive considering she is so young and her relationship with Andrew Keenan Bolger’s Jesse is super cute. Terrance Hill as The Man in the Yellow Suit is a blast to watch. Though I do think Tuck Everlasting was anything ground breaking or spectacular, there’s nothing glaringly bad about and I think it deserved a fairer chance.
Tuck Everlasting (2002)
Despite having a decent 6.7 on IMDB, this film kind of has a bad reputation for straying from the source material and supposedly turning a deep and poignant story into a trite teen romance. I enjoyed this movie growing up and still do but I admit that it is silly at some points and I perfectly understand why someone would not like it, especially if they were very attached to the book. Perhaps I was more forgiving because I was the target audience and did not have an attachment to the original story.
The word I would use to describe this movie is pretty: The cinematography and music are beautiful with lots of squirly shots of fields and trees and the lilting, wistful tune of Mae Tuck’s musicbox being the central musical theme. The acting in the film is decent, there’s no spectacular performances but the actors are all believable. Ben Kingsley is delightfully hammy and creepy as The Man in the Yellow Suit despite looking like Curious George’s owner’s evil hippy uncle. The dialogue is more than a little cheesy at points but it fits the movie’s whimsical tone.
One of this version’s biggest divisions from the original is that they aged up the character of Winnie Foster (Alexis Bledel) making her fifteen instead of ten or eleven, as she is the book. The way this character is established in the film sets me up to hate her. She’s the cliched spunky period heroine who’s ahead of her time and feels stifled by her upper class life that you’ve seen a million times. She mopes around, complains about having to wear a corset (bet you haven’t heard that one before), and does things like play baseball with a bunch of urchins which I guess is supposed to impress us with her pluck. There’s nothing really to her in the beginning besides being bored and whiney, which is the way most teenaged girls are, I know I was. Winnie does get more likable when she meets the Tucks and loosens up and all of the cliches do not piss me off as much as they might have.
I guess the reason why they made Winnie older is so that her relationship with Jesse (Jonathan Jackson) could be more of a romance and this romance is the focus of the film. In the book, the focus is on her connection to the entire Tuck family and Jesse is more of an older brother figure, though Winnie does have a bit of a crush on him and they do have a special bond. Jesse even asks Winnie to drink from the magical spring when she grows up so they can be married. Jesse in the film version always kind of reminded me of Jack from Titanic, the manic pixie dream boy who cheers up the upper class heroine who’s unhappy with her life. There’s this scene where Jesse and Winnie are talking about the Eiffel Tower and Winnie says that she would ride up to the top in an elevator but Jesse says that if she went with him, she would have to take off her shoes and walk up. For years I thought that that exchange was between Jack and Rose. As hokey and pandering as the relationship between Jesse and Winnie is, it is still super adorable.
The relationship between Jesse and his older brother Miles is also interesting in this version. They are very different, Miles is sullen and cynical while Jesse is carefree and up for a good time, and Miles is always on Jesse’s case, especially in regards to bringing Winnie into their lives and possibly exposing the secret of their family’s immortality then later falling in love with Winnie but you can see that Miles does not want his brother to get hurt the way he was hurt. Miles always reminded me of my older brother Tom, because Tom was always the grump of the family.
There’s a lot in this movie that is silly and cliche but that it is outweighed by how much I love it. If you want to watch something that’s cute, magical, and romantic, and you’re in a very forgiving mood, I would definitely recommend it.
Fun Fact: The town used for modern day Treegap is called Berlin Maryland; my grandparents used to have a vacation home near there.