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The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012)
Movie Reviews

The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012)

Tells a story the filmmakers apparently had no idea what to do with; the plot meanders and is often implausible even within the context of a fantasy.

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The Odd Life of Timothy Green is the third film I’ve seen in several weeks that involves, in some form, the notion of a couple having trouble conceiving. On the basis of how each of them turned out, it’s quite possible they have to put this concept on hold until it can be applied to a decent screenplay. Here is yet another example of a bad film made with the best of intentions. It tells a story the filmmakers apparently had no idea what to do with; the plot meanders and is often implausible even within the context of a fantasy, the characters are very poorly developed, and its message is so insubstantial that one wonders how it could have possibly taken two hours to arrive at it. It’s really a shame, because the ads have been promising a magical, heartwarming, life-affirming fable, and I went into it expecting nothing less. What I got was a film that couldn’t decide what it wanted to be.

We open with Cindy and Jim Green (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) sitting in an office at an adoption agency. They’re trying to present themselves in the best possible light so that they will be deemed fit for parenthood. They plead their case in the form of a personal account, which, for the benefit of the audience, unfolds as extended flashback sequences. And so we get some introductory shots of the fictional Stanleyville, one of those quaint all-American small towns surrounded by a lot of forest land. It seems the only form of industry is the local pencil factory, where Jim works; the bad economy and the prospect of layoffs are worked into the story, although not in satisfying or meaningful ways. Primarily, they seem to have been included simply for the sake of creating more drama.

Anyway, the Greens’ story begins when they’re given the devastating news that they will not be able to naturally conceive a child. Later that night, in an effort to get some closure from their loss, they write onto mini notepad pages several character traits they would have wanted their child to have – optimism, honesty, musical ability, artistic talent, kicking a soccer field goal, etc. Mournfully, Cindy gathers the papers, places them in a small wooden box, and buries it in her backyard garden. While the Greens are asleep, their property is hit with a sudden rainstorm. This causes a patch of soil to bulge forward, as if something were emerging from underground. Almost as soon as it begins, the rain magically falls upwards. The Greens awaken and soon discover a naked, dirt-coated ten-year-old boy crouching in the nursery Cindy furnished but thought she was never going to use. He tells them his name is Timothy (C.J. Adams). After giving him a bath, the Greens discover the boy has leaves sprouting from his ankles.

So far, so good; a boy has magically sprouted from the ground and entered the lives of a childless couple, who accept him as their own. I’m dumbfounded that no one could have done anything more with this idea. The trailers and TV spots give the impression that Timothy is a special little boy who brings sunshine and hope into the lives of the Greens and everyone else – a Pollyanna, if you will. This is not the case. Not only do the characters not benefit from Timothy being in their lives, Timothy is himself less of a magical miracle worker and more of a frustrating anomaly. The personality traits listed by the Greens are either completely missing or misconstrued to the point that they might as well be missing. An example of the former: The extent to Timothy’s musical talent is banging on a cowbell with no sense of rhythm. An example of the latter: Although Timothy does make it onto his school’s soccer team, he clearly doesn’t understand the rules of the game, and when he finally does kick a field goal, it’s in the wrong direction.

The Greens insist Timothy wear socks at all times to keep his leaves covered – which, incidentally, are so strong that trying to prune them will result in broken shears. We do see him occasionally sunbathing, and we are aware that his leaves are gradually turning brown and falling off, but the truth of his existence is ever made clear to the audience. All we have to go on is the way he interacts with the principal characters, none of whom seem to have a real purpose in this story apart from being introduced and then forgotten about. Just to name a few, there’s Cindy’s competitive, perfectionist sister (Rosemarie DeWitt), Jim’s emotionless, disapproving father (Jim Morse), and Cindy’s boss, a snooty millionaire (Dianne Wiest). Timothy, being honest to a fault, includes the boss’ chin hairs when he produces a sketch of her; the upshot is that several staff members, including Cindy, are fired for their lack of honesty, so I’m forced to wonder what has been gained.

There’s a subplot involving Timothy and Jim inventing a new kind of pencil and Jim’s boss (Ron Livingston) taking credit for it. We also have a puppy-love romance between Timothy and a teenage girl named Joni (Odeya Rush), whose bonds with Timothy over their mutual love of leaves and a not-so-devastating secret she’s hiding. Ultimately, her role in the story is so inconsequential that she essentially amounts to a red herring. So then what is the point of The Odd Life of Timothy Green? The disappointing answer to that question gradually reveals itself as the Greens tell their story to a woman at the adoption agency, who would never in a million years believe them, not even in a film like this. All I can say is, two people are raising a child for the first time, and according to what we see, they have no idea what they’re doing. Wouldn’t Timothy’s existence in some way benefit them? In a better movie, it would have.

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08/15/2012

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PG

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Walt Disney Pictures

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About the Author: Chris Pandolfi