A film review by Craig J. Koban August 21, 2012


2012, PG, 104 mins.


Cindy Green: Jennifer Garner / Jim Green: Joel Edgerton / Timothy Green: CJ Adams / Joni Jerome: Odeya Rush / Evette Onat: Shohreh Aghdashloo / Brenda Best: Rosemarie DeWitt / James Green Sr.: David Morse / Uncle Bub: M. Emmet Walsh / Aunt Mel: Lois Smith / Reggie Lin: Manuel Miranda / Ms. Bernice Crudstaff: Dianne Wiest / Franklin Crudstaff: Ron Livingston / Joseph Crudstaff: James Rebhorn / Coach Cal: Common

Written and directed by Peter Hedges



THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN is part Capra-corn, part fantasy, part three-hanky infertility family melodrama, and all kinds of obnoxious and manipulatively sentimental hogwash.  I have no problem with films that want to make audiences cry, but they have to genuinely earn that kind of reaction.  THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN is so flippantly sentimental that it wants to grab you by the face, squeeze your eyes, and ring tears right out of your sockets.  Some audience members were indeed brought to tears during the screening; I was nearly induced to throw up.

To be very fair, the film – directed by WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE writer Peter Hedges - has the noblest of intentions and means well enough.  It also has some sobering themes that many viewers will, no doubt, latch on to (parent’s battling with their inability to produce offspring; the sometimes Herculean roadblocks that befall the adoption process; unconditionally loving and supporting your children as parents before time runs out; and so forth).  Yet, the makers of the film kind of discredit those potentially involving and noteworthy themes by placing them within a far-fetched and fantastical premise that had me frankly scratching my head as to all of its inconsistencies and loopholes.  It’s okay to have a genuinely heartfelt and endearing family film with old-fashioned values and an out-there premise, but the story of THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN occupies an odd plane of existence that – despite the fact that it’s pure fantasy – I simply could not accept the further it progressed. 

It’s all a shame, because two very likeable and capable actors spearhead the production with sincere and moving performances that the film never really earns nor deserves.  Cindy and Jim Green (Jennifer Garner – harbinger of a beautiful thousand watt smile – and Joel Edgerton, the accomplished and underrated Aussie actor from WARRIOR) are a Stanleyville couple that are told that they cannot have children.  This predictably devastates them, but they manage to find ways of dealing with the grief in the film’s introductory – and best - moments.  They jot down all of the positive characteristics and potential life experiences that they want their “perfect” child to possess, place the papers in a tiny box and then bury it in their backyard, perhaps as a form of emotional closure.   



An odd lightning storm – that seems to only affect their home – strikes and Cindy and Jim are awoken to find a soil-covered and naked 10-year-old boy named Timothy (CJ Adams) who has a very peculiar physical trait of having leaves sprouting form his ankles.  He soon addresses them as mom and dad.  The Greens take all of this reasonably well, considering that they - moments later - see a gapping hole in the ground where the box they previously buried was and…well…they put two and two together and realize that he was wished into existence.  Clearly, the lad is indeed very, very different, but they immediately decide to adopt and pass Timothy off as their new adopted son to everyone around them, trying their best to suppress the real origins of how he came to be.  As they get to know Timothy and allow him to grow – no pun intended – as a person, he begins to develop a friendship with another strange and introverted girl (Odeya Rush) and manages to charm his way into the lives of just about everyone else around him.  As Cindy and Jim become more elated by the day at their newfound parental responsibilities, ominous hints are dropped that Timothy may not be staying with the Greens forever. 

The script for the film – penned by Ahmet Zappa, son of Frank – presents the character Timothy in almost annoyingly abstract ways: What is he?  Where did he really come from?  Who made him?  Was it God or the Green’s wishes manifestly coming to life?  Why is Timothy able to touch all those around him with an immediacy and poise without a single person ever questioning his appearance and very existence?  How is he born into the world knowing the fine art of conversation, amiable wit and disarming humor when talking to people, but is unable to play soccer or a musical instrument?  And what the hell is he doing when he raises his arms into the air like a Mini-me Jesus?  Is he summoning the sun…good vibes…or is he seeking a better tan? 

The script also leaves a hell of a lot of other things unanswered.  There is a framing device – initially set in the present and then segueing back and forth into the past - of the Greens at an adoption agency telling their story of Timothy in every detail, but how the highly dubious agent (played by Shohreh Aghdashloo) does not immediately send the couple to the loony bin and keep them as far away from children  as possible is beyond me.  Then there is the alarming complacency that the Greens’ circle of friends and family maintain with the sudden appearance of Timothy out of thin air.  Adhering to the principle of “The Idiot Plot Syndrome”, there is not a questioning or suspicious soul in the film of intelligence that truly wants to know the genesis of the boy arriving at the Greens' doorstep, nor does anyone check a database for missing children or suspect the Greens of foul play. 

To make matters even more overbearingly saccharine and difficult to swallow, the film throws in a subplot of the town’s pencil mill being shut down in the midst of economic unrest in the nation (Stanleyville is the pencil capital of the world).   Timothy, being the little messiah figure that he is, inspires and uplifts his new parents to come up with a new kind of environmentally friendly pencil that will save the factory and get it back on track.  I’m not entirely sure how a new Earth-friendly pencil would save the factory from the ever-expanding computer age where pencils are not in high demand, but it makes for a would-be stirring climax as the Greens and Timothy plead their case to the town, during which Timothy is ultimately heralded as an instant savoir worthy of an automatic standing ovation.  Uh-huh. 

THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN is chalk full of lame and overused character types as well: the amoral prick of a factory boss, the cheery and carefree grandparents, the jock-lovin’ soccer coach that won’t put the talentless Timothy on the roster, and the Jim's estranged father that wasn’t there for him when he was a boy.  All of this relentlessly clichéd material is force fed down our throats while we are trying to invest in the spiritual and otherworldly premise of the film.  In the end, Timothy is not so much an intriguing and well-developed character as he is a hackneyed plot device to hammer home the film’s nauseating, crowd-placating gushiness.  There are, alas, good performances here (Garner and Edgerton are touchingly sweet and believable together as an on-screen couple) and the film looks sublime with BRAVEHEART’s cinematographer John Toll bathing the film in bucolic autumn colors.  Yet, I just couldn’t buy into the film’s fairly shallow-minded premise.  THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN is definitively odd, but not in good ways.

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