A most peculiar drama, indeed. As I watched The Odd Life of Timothy Green I kept thinking of how rare it is to find a touching, genuine piece of film that literally grows on you. Nothing especially grand in scale, just a simple fantasy set in reality. Director Peter Hedges has fashioned a sweet tale with sensibility, one that despite inspiring some eye-rolling and struggling to maintain a cohesive structure, manages to breathe kindness and spirit.
Disney has surely expanded its range in films in recent years, in terms of tone, and I suppose soon enough one would arrive in the form of a married couple who cannot have a child. Jim and Cindy Green, played with warmth by the duo of Joel Edgerton (Warrior) and Alias star Jennifer Garner, have almost given up hope on having a child of their very own. In a flash-forward scene toward the opening, the pair shares with an adoption agency of why they are suitable parents. They tell their miraculous story, of their short and certainly odd experience with a 10-year-old boy who enters their lives.
Timothy Green, played by the pleasant young talent of CJ Adams, emerges from Cindy and Jim’s garden during a sudden stormy night. They had just written down a bunch of characteristics of the perfect son as a cathartic exercise, placing those notes in a box that they set under the dirt, and out surfaces that ideal child. But not without some problems, both with their lives and also with the direction of this at-times clunky picture.
The pair provide little to no explanation to their friends and families of how Timothy comes to be. One moment the three of them go to bed, and the next scene it’s the following morning, and Cindy’s relatives are there are at the doorstep. Here’s Timothy. That’s about it. Everyone can see that Timothy is eccentric, to say the least. He spreads his arms out under the sun’s rays as if he is absorbing the light through photosynthesis. He finds joy in befriending another kid, a girl who he’s smitten with, and together they create nature-themed art. But most of all, what separates Timothy apart is that he sprouts leaves. Yes, foliage. On his legs, to be specific. Timothy must keep this a secret, so his parents tell him, to ensure he’s no different than everyone else. Because we all know that our differences must be hidden.
There lies perhaps the main issue within Green, that our unique traits or features are considered bad. All it requires is a little boy’s trials to convince his parents that conformity is not necessarily what it’s cracked up to be. Very family-friendly subject matter that may encourage good discussions, certainly, but I find it somewhat striking that a director as deft as Hedges does not take this down a more profound course. He has always succeeded in writing smart, thoughtful scripts, such as with the touching About a Boy and genial Dan in Real Life, but with Green, something feels lacking. The fantasy premise just begs for more material, more depth, more exploration into Timothy’s background. Instead Hedges veers it to mainly focus on the importance of respecting everyone’s quirks and showing the significance of family. I respect those principles, and find it wonderfully refreshing to see a film with the evident consideration that Hedges inserts throughout, but there could have been a higher attention to expanding the main premise of Timothy’s peculiar origins, and eventual struggles to exist.
Garner plays the overprotective mother role with ease and handles the heartfelt moments with such consideration. Edgerton casts just the right fatherly tone, teaching his son how to play soccer and joining him on a unique version of “Low Rider.” Adams delivers the infectious moppet with natural charm. The fine supporting players of Dianne Wiest, Ron Livingston, and Rosemarie DeWitt have little to do but strike just one tone, that of coldness, with the exception of a few moments toward the end when Weist’s and DeWitt’s characters prove they’re more than just icy women. The amount of one-dimensional characters, primarily the non-leads, make this feel somewhat unnatural. I can understand that some individuals are not as rounded as others, but the script comes across as though characters are either good or bad.
Save for those issues, there’s a lot to love here. The natural temperament of Geoff Zanelli’s minimalist musical score harmonizes with the picturesque art direction and cinematography of rich, colorful neighborhoods and forests. The aforementioned performances by the leads carry Green with gentility and enjoyment. Never do the muddled plot problems bog down the pacing, as the running time of roughly 100 minutes breezes by within a flash.
While I doubt Timothy Green will make hand over fist, as its early box office results suggest, I feel disappointed that more movie-goers do not check out gems like this, even with its scratches. With an independent feeling and movement, Green feels as if it should have been released during the quieter movie seasons of mid-fall or early spring. It seems out-of-place during its release near the end of the summer, when many studios are releasing garbage they pushed back. Odd Life is far from that, and the odd timing and tone may explain the lackluster earnings.
This tale feels trapped, a very sad feeling, when you are rooting for everything to work but the foundation simply appears tangled within all of the beauty and atmosphere. The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a straightforward, agreeable movie that dares not to experiment too much with its promising premise, limiting its potential of seizing the grandness this special story yearns to be. Kind of muddy with a sweet nature, but then again, that’s just like Timothy.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Check back next Thursday inside Disney In Depth for another exciting edition, and as always, you can catch alerts of new editions by following me on Twitter.