[Review] – The Odd Life Of Timothy Green

3 Sep

Title: The Odd Life of Timothy Green
Year: 2012
Director: Peter Hedges
Writer: Peter Hedges, based on a story by Ahmet Zappa
Starring: Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, CJ Adams, Odeya Rush, Dianne Wiest, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ron Livingston, David Morse, Common
MPAA Rating: PG, mild thematic elements and brief language
Runtime: 105 min
IMDb Rating: 6.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 39%
Metacritic: 48

The two films Peter Hedges had directed prior to The Odd Life of Timothy Green were Pieces of April and Dan in Real Life, two films that I really like and that have this different, more intimate approach to storytelling that I was impressed with. He wrote those films, too, something he’s also done adapting his own novel for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and Nick Hornby‘s novel for the terrific About a Boy. So I was excited to check out his new film, this PG-rated offering that I still held out quite a bit of hope for just because it was coming from him.

Well, it turns out that, while not a bad film at all, The Odd Life of Timothy Green just doesn’t hold a candle to the past efforts this man’s given us. I mean, it’s super well-intentioned, and you can tell Mr. Hedges had a great deal of affection for the project, but the fact remains that this film is just schmaltzy to the core, and that the screenplay is actually rather weak.

The film is about the Green’s, Cindy and Jim, the couple played really nicely by Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton, who have a rather magical and mysterious experience with the titular Timothy, played by CJ Adams who was cast by Mr. Hedges after working with him in Dan in Real Life. You see, they are given the earth-shattering news that they can’t conceive a child, and to kind of cope with it somehow, Jim convinces Cindy to dream up this child, to imagine how he would be and write those characteristics and several life events he would have had in little bits of paper.

We get this film told from the perspective of Cindy and Jim as they talk to an adoption agency, telling their tale with Timothy so that they convince the agent they’re fit to adopt a child. You see, after they wrote all that stuff down, they put it in a box which they buried in their backyard, then one day a storm comes down hard and the next morning Timothy, a ten-year-old, appears at their front door, saying he’s their kid. They see a hole where they buried the box which is now shattered and they see the kid covered in mud and they connect the dots, thinking that a miracle happened. And then they notice Timothy’s strangest feature, he has leaves growing on his legs.

Not to overuse the pun granted by the title, but this film is actually pretty odd. And there’s a lot of ground covered by Mr. Hedges here, on a script that he wrote himself based on the strange concept presented to him by Ahmet Zappa, son of Frank. I appreciated that Mr. Hedges tried to touch upon so much stuff here, and he certainly does his best and his ensemble of actors are all quite good, but for some reason I just couldn’t get lost in this whimsical and magical affair, and I kept getting frustrated at a lot of things which obviously hurt quite a bit my overall enjoyment of the film.

Now, it’s not as though I’m this thick-headed kind of guy who can’t stand plot-holes and who’s a realist that won’t buy into fantasy; quite the opposite, take a look at some of my favorite films and you’ll find stuff that can be described by just that, and one of the films of this year I’ve given an A+ to, Prometheus, is filled with huge plot-holes. I just don’t know, I liked how warm and lovable this film seemed, but I couldn’t help but feel as though Mr. Hedges just overdid it a little bit here, just too much sappy stuff.

What will allow me to recommend this film to whoever asks, however, is that I actually quite liked that, even if Mr. Hedges was so reluctant to provide much explanation for anything at all, at least he didn’t shy away from some of the rather tough emotions dealt with here. This is a family film, and yet, because of the love he has for the story (which was made it falter a bit in some other aspects) and how much he cares for these characters, he actually tackles hard stuff like loss and the harsh reality that people who can’t conceive face and parenting as a whole. I liked that, I felt it didn’t cheapen the film and it stayed true to reality even though elsewhere it was as fantastical as you could imagine.

Here’s what’s frustrating though. Even though I quite liked that the film was bold enough to touch upon those mature themes, I thought it didn’t mesh well with its overall approach. I mean, the film is obviously kid-oriented and behaves as such, and yet I felt as though these themes were super adult and I thought it couldn’t decide just how it wanted to behave at times which made it kind of shoddy. There were all these kind of dark topics explored but they couldn’t be delved into as properly as they should have because at the end of the day this is still a PG-rated film. I wanted to buy into this modern fairytale, but at the end of the day the magic just wasn’t enough to make me believe.

I won’t tell you what happens at the end (it all hinges on the meaning of the leaves growing on Timothy’s legs) but rest assured that it’s a super earnest message and that it’s a feel-good film for parents to take their kids to. I liked all of that, that’s why I’m giving it a recommending grade, I just thought that The Odd Life of Timothy Green, while certainly odd, could have dig much deeper at really great ideas of which it only just dared to scratch the surface.

Grade: B-

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