With Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, CJ Adams, David Morse, Dianne Wiest. Written and directed by Peter Hedges. Rated PG (for mild thematic elements and brief language). 104 minutes.
Writer-director Peter Hedges is obviously very concerned about how families function, as depicted in films like “Pieces Of April” and “Dan In Real Life,” but there always seemed to be something a bit forced about the situations he puts his characters in that made them seem unrealistic. So for THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN, he has decided to throw realism out the window entirely, creating a fantasy that can touch your heart if you let it.
Jim and Cindy Green (Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Garner) are trying to adopt a child. When asked in the interview why they would be good parents they start to relate the story of Timothy (CJ Adams). The Greens learned that they will be unable to have children. Devastated, they decide to mourn by spending an evening imagining their ideal child. They then bury the notes of their description in the backyard. Sometime later a downpour happens and something unusual takes place. Timothy emerges from the ground but he’s no zombie. Instead, he’s a lovely young boy who happens to have several leaves growing out of his legs.
A miracle has taken place giving them the child they wanted. However, since they talk about Timothy in the past tense at the adoption interview, we know we’re being setting up for a poignant story. There are lessons to be learned and not a lot of time to learn them in.
Hedges sets the story in a small town which may lose its primary economic engine – a pencil factory. Jim works at the plant while Cindy gives tours at the town museum which is devoted to pencils. Jim struggles with his relationship with a cold and distant father (David Morse) and vows to be a different sort of parent. Cindy is employed by the town matriarch (Dianne Wiest), who is a different sort of cold and controlling type. Meanwhile, Timothy is as friendly as can be, not always immediately grasping how normal children act but doing the best he can.
This is a slight fantasy that asks viewers to buy into an awful lot, starting with why Jim and Cindy accept Timothy’s arrival without question. There’s also the matter of those leaves, and when they start to brown you just know that’s not good news. Yet the film (presented by Disney) does work as a family movie. Children will have no trouble with the “magical” Timothy while adults may see their own struggles to have or raise a family reflected in the various issues here.
This is difficult material to handle in a light fantasy mode which is probably why it’s not been done very often. In fact one probably has to go back to the relatively obscure 1950 “For Heaven’s Sake” – about angels helping prospective children to find families into which they can be born – to even come close. There are moments where it seems a bit heavy-handed, particular with “bad parents” Morse and Wiest, but there’s also Lois Wilson and M. Emmet Walsh as the elderly aunt and uncle who raised Cindy who provide a positive role model of loving and supportive parents.
“The Odd Life Of Timothy Green” is a very odd film indeed. If the above sounds at all intriguing, it’s worth a look. If you’ve been rolling your eyes throughout this review, give it a pass.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.