Starring: Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, CJ Adams, Odeya Rush, Shoreh Aghdashloo, Rosemarie DeWitt, David Morse, M. Emmett Walsh, Lois Smith, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Dianne Wiest, Ron Livingston, Common, James Rebhorn. Michael Arden.
Director: Peter Hedges
Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements and brief language.)
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Release Date: August 15, 2012
Home Video Release Date: TBD
North American Box Office: $27.1 Million
Monsterfoot Productions, Scott Sanders Productions, and Walt Disney Pictures.
Written by: Peter Hedges; Story by Ahmet Zappa.
★★★1/2 (out of 5 stars)
A curious and precocious film, The Odd Life Of Timothy Green is a movie that falls very easily into the category of schmaltzy, heavy-handed, lowest common denominator-style family movie storytelling. At least at first impression. However, if you take the time to actual watch and experience The Odd Life Of Timothy Green, surprisingly, and rather audaciously, the film grabs you and hits you on an emotional level few, if any, could have expected. I recognize that some will see right through the charade as I thought I would do. But writer/director Peter Hedges nails you in the gut and the heart with the last 15 minutes or so and suddenly, you want more – realizing that this Odd film is carefully constructed and while mawkish and manipulative at times, a soul stirrer nonetheless.
Residing in the small town of Stanleyville, USA, a barren couple, Jim and Cindy Green (Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner), are finally given definitive news that they will never be able to conceive a child and are understandably heartbroken. Jim, desperate to keep his wife from spiraling deeper into a severe depression, convinces her that together they will write down all the traits they hoped for in their first born. A little bit of wine and a whole lot of encouragement allows Cindy to join Jim in the endeavor and after writing down countless characteristics which define their “ideal child”, Jim and Cindy bury those notes and thoughts in a box in a garden outside their home.
Naturally, a massive and impressive storm comes from seemingly out of nowhere overnight and the Greens awake to a loud noise coming from inside their house. As Jim and Cindy investigate, Cindy stumbles into a spare bedroom and finds massive clumps of dirt, footprints, and a shivering child, around the age of 10 or 11, staring back at her. Frozen for a moment, she calls to her husband and then is disarmingly greeted by the boy, Timothy (CJ Adams), who is immediately kindhearted and grateful that the Greens are there to help him out.
Little by little and moment by moment, Jim and Cindy realize that Timothy exhibits many, if not all, of the same ideal characteristics they hoped for in a child. When Jim finds the site where the notes were buried and finds the dirt unsettled and dug out, he and Cindy realize that inexplicably, Timothy must be the child they have always wanted and the child they never thought they would ever be able to have.
Peter Hedges is and has been, thus far, a pretty terrific screenwriter and serviceable director. Breaking through into film with a big screen adaptation of his own novel, “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” in 1993, Hedges has scored with his screenplays for About A Boy, Pieces Of April, and Dan In Real Life, the latter two finding Hedges directing the films as well. Here, adapting a concept credited to Ahmet Zappa (son of Frank Zappa), Hedges starts off with a contrived and foolish “flashback” premise that so many films have fallen victim to. Hedges efficiently finds success in writing his main characters so well that the fantastical plot becomes something almost palatable; or, at a minimum, something we can willingly go along with.
Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton play well off of one another and Garner especially nails terrific chemistry with CJ Adams, the young actor in the titular role who Hedges used previously in Dan In Real Life. Adams is quite talented and delivers a moving and affecting performance in bringing Timothy literally to life. Many of the supporting characters are hit or miss, with rapper Common providing some levity as a soccer coach who cannot bring himself to put Timothy in any game. I found newcomer Odeya Rush impressive as an older girl who becomes fascinated and friends with Timothy. Hedges does miss the mark though in underwriting Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married), as Cindy’s wealthy and jealous sister, while journeyman actor Ron Livingston (Office Space) gets a thankless part as a villainous factory owner, who oversees the fledgling Stanleyville pencil plant, the lone source of industry in the Greens’ idyllic little town.
And many will squawk at the entire layout of the story, as Hedges decides to have the Greens tell their story in narrative flashback in front of two adoption officers (Shoreh Aghdashloo, Michael Arden), presiding over the Greens’ appeal for the right to adopt a child. And when the film scores some goodwill early on, Hedges drags us back to the adoption review panel. Each time, I became unrelentingly frustrated. And yet, Adams with Rush, Adams with Garner and Edgerton; these moments deliver subtle impact and Hedges builds an impressive foundation in front of you without your even knowing it.
After the film delivers its moving and impacting boom, I walked away from the theater impressed, reflecting on the gorgeous cinematography by two-time Oscar winner John Toll (Legends Of The Fall, Braveheart), the top notch production design, the performance by Garner and the work of Adams and Rush, who, when together, steal the show. As time has passed, I have softened my stance somewhat but still find The Odd Life Of Timothy Green a pretty wonderful surprise.
For some viewers, it will be impossible to look past the flaws and trap doors Hedges cannot steer away from and I get that. And yet, every once in a while, we find a film that wins us over unconditionally, flaws and all, and this is my latest example. So often I write about how films failed to do this and failed to do that. Conversely, sometimes I laud effusive praise upon a story or film that provides a unique film experience.
Rare anymore is the film that critics and reviewers acknowledge is less than perfect, may stumble around in getting you where it wants to take you, but wins you over nonetheless. The Odd Life Of Timothy Green simply worked for me and I have no qualms encouraging families to take a shot with it. Adults and older viewers will be frustrated at times, but at some point, everyone watching Odd Life will smile, laugh, and/or perhaps even dab away some tears.
SHOULD I SEE IT?
- Fantasy and science-fiction will like the idea of a boy seemingly sprouting out of the ground and integrating his/herself into everyday human life.
- CJ Adams and Odeya Rush are terrific on-screen friends and Jennifer Garner is pretty great alongside with Joel Edgerton. When the focus shifts to these four characters, the film is quite terrific,.
- The last thing I expected was this film to pack a bittersweet emotional payoff. For those prone to such things, this film will sneak up on you.
- The entire premise with the adoption review panel is aggravating and I would argue unnecessary. It is there however and I can imagine I may not be the only one annoyed at the use of that particular angle in telling this compelling story..
- Hedges underwrites many of the lesser supporting characters who all, at some point or another, become a focal point with Timothy. The film suffers when some of these characters move to the front and center.
- Countless people I know will likely brand the film as shameless, manipulative, heavy-handed and contrived. Elements of the film are and although I can find a pathway that leads to recommending the film, I can see others become frustrated really quickly, .