Peter Hedges’s “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” brings to mind the oft paraphrased axiom attributed to Winston Churchill. He said, if you’re not a liberal when you’re young you have no heart, and if you’re not more conservative as you age, you have no brain. Had he lived, he might have added, if you see this film and don’t cry, you have no soul.
Yeah, that was me, 12th row left, aisle seat, rubbing my eyes, making like they were tired. But we all know the real score, occasional sap that I am for the treacly stuff. And this isn’t even a very good movie. In defense, credit Mr. Hedges and company with astutely tugging at the heartstrings, drawing us in, urging one to drop the jaded blasé act.
Told in simple flashback, Cindy and Jim Green, played by Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton, relate their strange tale to the adoption agency lady (Shohreh Aghdashloo), hoping it’ll convince her to let them have a kid. Alas, they had one, a very special one… the title character. We muse the mystery of potentially great parents, skipped by the stork.
In any case, they win the sympathetic ear of the child dispensing official in pretty much the same way that Irene Dunne and Cary Grant ingratiated Beulah Bondi in “Penny Serenade” (1941), the granddaddy of this tear-jerking genre. Except that this tale is more extraordinary than hard luck sad. The aforementioned tears are the ebullient, happy kind.
We’re delighted when, after Cindy and Jim bury a wish box full of parental dreams and sentiments in their backyard, Timothy Green pops up out of the ground like a commercial for some miracle fertilizer….an already-made boy, about 9. Now, if they can only grow the $60,000 a year to send him to college; about 35K if he goes public. Not that they care.
After the usual scene of disbelief, the reality of the dream come true lights up everything around the Green home. While Miss Garner and Mr. Edgerton hardly contribute special performances, there’s no doubting their complete and utter joy. Two people were never happier. Excuse me, sniff …. really happy. And why not? Timothy is a perfect child.
Well, nearly. Those are leaves growing out of his legs. Whatever it’s meant to symbolize, whether ecological, biblical or esoterically biological, the fantastical husbandry that yields the resultant offspring is never really elucidated. Oh, Timothy gets it alright, but, you know, it’s in that secret way only kids understand, and can’t explain.
There’s a parable or two here, or at least some attempted ones, as Cindy and Jim set out to be the perfect parents…to avoid the negative things their parents did, and emulate any and all positive examples they’ve ever held dear. Of course, the first lesson they feel compelled to impart is about being different. Natch, Timothy is a step ahead of them.
He is, after all, a natural born flower child, or rather, plant child, if you dig… as Cindy and Jim eventually do. Thus the underlying message here, propounded with the subtlety of a sledge hammer, is an amalgam of out of the mouths of babes and the child is father to the man. But there’s no magic in the delivery of the magic. It’s far too straightforward.
Adapted by director Hedges from Ahmet Zappa’s (that’s Frank’s son) story, the tone and sensibilities are familiar, yet never quite smack of their own creativity. I imagine the script stealthily retrieved from a bin near Roald Dahl’s desk, where the famed kiddy author tossed unfinished, troubled works, to be revisited if inspiration ever came calling.
Therefore, expect way too much time devoted to the same old, predictable mechanisms. For all the dreaming and fantasizing about how they wouldn’t be “those kind of parents,” the previously childless couple are soon not only keeping up with the Joneses, but trying to pass them. Jim beseeching the soccer coach to play the disinterested Timothy is pitiful.
Yep, in trying to right the wrongs his big, macho dad (David Morse) dumped on him, he was destined to repeat the injury. But our Nature Boy would much rather deliver water to the tired troops. Played with distinction by C.J. Adams, he’s about helping, connecting, and putting things in harmonious balance…a latter day poster child for neo-Hippyism.
Thus it follows that, among the pabulum-fed moralisms to be gleaned here, the idea of tolerance, at once the most divine yet the toughest to put in practice, is most notably extolled. If but an iota of that wisdom rubs of on the little sprout who drags you to the Tivoli, then surely you can forgive “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” its faults.
“The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” rated PG, is a Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release directed by Peter Hedges and stars Jennifer Garner, C.J. Adams and Joel Edgerton. Running time: 105 minutes
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