(This review was originally published on August 15, 2012 at Reel Film News)
Writer/director Peter Hedges’ family fantasy/drama “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” is enjoyable enough, but often feels like it’s dying to be a more serious movie. The story revolves around Jim and Cindy Green (Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner), a couple who discover that they can’t conceive children, and who, in a very bizarre and desperate moment, decide to compile a list of traits that describe their perfect child – right down to scoring the winning goal in a soccer game (which they both act out with disturbing zeal). They put the list in a box and bury it in their backyard. The result is a ten-year-old boy, who appears miraculously in the house after a – pardon the lack of a better word – ‘magic’ rainstorm. He is covered in mud, with a built-in vocab to boot. From the ivy attached to his legs, we can only assume that he sprouted from the ground like a plant.
Okay, so it’s hokey, but keep in mind that this is a family movie (c’mon, their last name is Green) and not a terrible one at that. Though well below the bar that Hedges set with his script for “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”, (which he adapted from his own novel) almost two decades ago, I’m sure it was Disney’s specs that ultimately resulted in the watered-down, often corny characters that we get here. Interpersonal issues are just as quickly glossed over as they are introduced, as if there were an adult companion script hidden somewhere in Hedges’ office explaining what’s really happening behind the scenes. “Timothy Green” is a little too safe, even for its PG rating.
After his introduction to the world (that is, wholesome middle America where almost the whole town, including Jim and Cindy, works at either the pencil factory or the pencil museum), Timothy (CJ Adams) appears to embody all the attributes that the couple had envisioned for a kid. “He’d never give up, he’s honest to a fault”, etc.. Sound familiar? The film goes through the motions as all of these elements play out in one selfless act after another. This whole story, by the way, is being told by the Greens as they sit at an adoption agency, so it’s clear early on that Timothy is a God-sent grooming mechanism for them to have a real child at some point. I won’t spoil how it gets there, but it’s just as easy to predict each subsequent plot development, encompassing typical buzz issues like financial strain and domestic discord. Pinocchio this is not.
As far as the acting goes, Edgerton and Garner do a fine job within the framework they are given, and CJ Adams is confident in his first major role. The supporting cast is an impressive list, but the characters are black-and-white: Jim’s overly competitive father (David Morse) and the two despicable villain-types who run the pencil factory (Ron Livingston and Dianne Wiest) are written as overblown and one-dimensional. I suppose that’s typical for family fare; anyway, I think the real antagonist here is time.
With all that in mind, there’s still something inherently sweet about “Timothy Green”, as if it’s very aware of how naive it looks but refuses to acknowledge it. While it almost completely avoids the solemn aspects of its theme, it succeeds in being one of the most upbeat major releases so far this season. I don’t recall seeing the plight of a child ‘being different’ receive such a benign treatment. I suppose that’s how Hedges wants to address the audience.
“So you all came from your mom’s tummies?” Timothy asks some kids at a picnic. “How was that?” You might find yourself having ‘the talk’ with your kids for a few unexpected reasons after this one.