Release Date: August 14, 2012
Rating: PG for mild thematic elements and brief language
Run Time: 104 min.
Director: Peter Hedges
Cast: CJ Adams, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Garner, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Dianne Wiest, M. Emmet Walsh, Rosemarie DeWitt, Odeya Rush, Lois Smith, Ron Livingston, Common
Here in the dog days of August, after the big summer blockbusters have already begun the journey to home video, Disney has released a family-friendly film that should appeal to kids and grownups alike. The Odd Life of Timothy Green, based on a story by Ahmet Zappa and directed by Peter Hedges (Dan in Real Life), asks how we would react to a miraculous, albeit temporary, event. The film pushes its magicality almost to disbelief's breaking point, but thanks to a gifted cast, the movie’s message goes down like a spoonful of sugar.
Jim Green (Joel Edgerton, Warrior), a worker at the troubled pencil factory in Stanleyville (“The Pencil Capital of the World”) and his wife, Cindy (Jennifer Garner, Juno), have tried to start a family to no avail. After they receive the heartbreaking news that they can’t conceive, they grieve by spending an evening writing out the qualities they’d love to see in their imagined offspring (“be a Picasso with a pencil,” “score the winning goal,” etc.), then place the list in a box and bury it in the backyard before heading to bed.
A thunderstorm magically brings to life an adolescent boy (newcomer CJ Adams) who emerges from the box's burial plot. A bewildered but delighted Jim and Cindy can’t explain what’s happened—“it was all very sudden and kind of miraculous,” Cindy will say later—but they quickly accept the child into their lives. The mysterious appearance of the boy, whom they name Timothy (literally meaning “honored by God,” although neither the movie nor its characters are outwardly religious), is heightened by an unusual physical trait: he has leaves growing from his ankles.
Timothy’s presence is a balm to those around him: he brings joy to frail Uncle Bub (M. Emmet Walsh, Youth in Revolt) and Aunt Mel (Lois Smith, Hollywoodland), and softens the disposition of Cindy’s difficult boss (Dianne Wiest, Rabbit Hole). But Timothy not only affects those around him, he’s affected by them as well. The pangs of first love are soon stirred within him by a student (Odeya Rush) looking to share secrets of her own.
Hedges' adaptation uses a framing device to tell the story of Timothy and his impact on those he meets. Jim and Cindy, meeting with an adoption agency worker (Shohreh Aghdashloo, The Nativity Story) to flesh out their cryptic responses on an application, try to explain Timothy’s magical appearance in their lives. It’s clear early on that Timothy is more a part of the couple’s past than he is part of their present, but the full revelation of Timothy’s fate won’t be explained until the film’s finale.
If some of the plot details sound familiar, that’s because the recently released Ruby Sparks took a more adult approach to similar material (a writer’s dream girl materializes one day in his kitchen). The Odd Life of Timothy Green, while less ambitious, is the more successful film. Not only do we care more about the Greens than we did about Paul Dano’s writer character in Ruby Sparks, but Timothy Green’s central questions stay with us: How do we appreciate the miraculous appearance of new life? How can we make the most of the limited time we're given with loved ones? How can we build upon past relationships?
But the film is not without its drawbacks. Jim and Cindy’s parenting style is smothering at times. They’re new at it, so maybe a degree of eagerness is excusable, although the film often wants us to support the couple’s worst instincts rather than correct them. Supporting actor Common (Date Night), as Timothy’s soccer coach, has one of the best lines in the film. Suspecting the Greens are taking “helicopter parenting" to new heights, he scowls, “You’re not those kind of parents—over-involved, are you?”
The rest of the supporting cast does well with their own one-dimensional roles, although this is the second film of the summer to waste Rosemarie DeWitt in a thankless role (The Watch being the earlier offender). She’s capable of so much more, as she demonstrated in the lesser seen Your Sister’s Sister.
Even if The Odd Life of Timothy Green feels familiar every step of the way -- the film’s autumn colors are nicely shot by John Toll, the winner of Best Cinematography Oscars for Braveheart and Legends of the Fall -- it leaves you thinking about the preciousness of time and how physical differences can strengthen rather than divide us. This is an earnest, well-intended, and good-enough-to-recommend film.
- Language/Profanity: “Oh, God”
- Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Drinking of wine
- Sex/Nudity: Husband and wife kiss; kids in swimsuits; a young romance; a reference to “the talk” that all parents have with their kids
- Violence/Crime: A game of dodgeball; school bullying; a kick to the face
- Religion: Timothy’s appearance is described as “miraculous”
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