Moviejay Implores You To Run And See The Heartwarming ‘The Odd Life Of Timothy Green’
The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a magical film with a big heart and some wise lessons about life. Arriving at the end of a summer movie season stained forever by an act of offscreen violence, here is something that redeems and nourishes us in a thoughtful way as it considers how it is we choose to treat each other.
This movie is going to need your help. It belongs to a time less cynical than ours, when real emotional honesty was more in vogue than today’s cool, ironic detachment. Read the negative reviews and then go see this picture. I believe you’ll agree with me afterwards that some critics should leave their fancy phones at home instead of their hearts.
I guess you either go with it or you don’t: as the ads suggest, a unique and lovable boy appears to grow overnight out of a garden. How does this happen? Easy, Jim and Cindy Green (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) are a young and loving married couple who yearn to conceive their first child. They’ve tried everything, but just can’t have a baby and we are there with them as their physician shares this sad information feeling their pain.
They drive home in a silence filled with deep anguish. Once inside, they retreat to separate corners of the house where they mourn in private before they do so together. With fragile emotions mixed with a little too much red wine, they endow their child-that-can-not-be with qualities and values they’d most want to pass on: always tells the truth–to a fault, is musical, and is funny–but not mean-funny, but charming-funny like their old Uncle Bub. The Greens write these things down on paper, insert them in a small trinket box and then bury it out back in the garden.
By morning, after a long and wicked overnight thunderstorm, Jim discovers a mud-covered boy (CJ Adams) of 11 or 12 with plush green leaves growing out of the bottoms of his legs. All signs point to the spot in the garden he had dug up the night before. Like Superman’s Martha and Jonathan Kent, the Greens approach this fact with curiosity, wonderment and middle-American matter-of-factness; they must keep him since God only knows what the authorities would do with him, and besides, they have a loving home and a vacancy to be filled in the child department.
They introduce themselves as Jim and Cindy. Timothy is quick to insist on calling them Mom and Dad. The Greens are tentative about that, and the screenplay does a wonderful job of allowing them to react the way two normal adults might in precisely that situation. Their dynamic is immediately put to the test as Jim and Cindy’s home is invaded with family, including Cindy’s older sister Brenda (Rosemarie DeWitt) and her family, Jim’s stoic father James (David Morse), and old Uncle Bub and Aunt Mel (M. Emmet Walsh and Lois Smith). Furtive, inquisitive looks are shared among the family. “It all ended up happening so suddenly”, Cindy tells her befuddled sister. Meanwhile, Timothy hits it off with Uncle Bub and Aunt Mel, who are immediately charmed by his thoughtfulness and sense of humor.
The supporting players here are very strong, even if some of them are given more peripheral roles. They include Shohreh Aghdashloo (The House of Sand and Fog, The Visitor) as the state’s adoption representative, and Dianne Weist as the matriarch of the pencil factory and museum (The Pencil Capital of the World, we are assured) that employs Jim and Cindy–another oddity about this movie that somehow fits. Business is not good at the factory and layoffs are coming down the pike, that is, until Timothy pushes Jim and Cindy to the perfect idea for a new sort of pencil design.
At school, Timothy is drawn to an earthy, nature-loving girl named Joni (of course!) in a wonderful performance by relative newcomer Odeya Rush. I will let you discover them without spoiling it here, except to say that we need more beautiful misfits such as these two in the world. Writer-director Peter Hedges, who penned What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and About a Boy, manages to draw out natural performances again from his younger actors here. Everything depends on young CJ Adams, who appeared as the little tyke in Hedges’ previous film, Dan in Real Life. He is open-faced and sensitive, and projects authentic wisdom and intelligence that runs down to his core in a character that is ultimately a mystery to us, an outside force that comes in and brings tremendous comfort and joy to those who meet him. Like Brad Pitt‘s otherworldly character in Meet Joe Black, it is perfect that we are not supplied with any easy answers regarding Timothy’s origins.
What begins as a relatively simple premise develops into a tender, warm, and perceptive fantasy that deals honestly with life and loss and finally, with the kind of attitude about life we can choose to have when things don’t always go our way. Stuck on the sidelines as the waterboy on the soccer team, we’re touched by how Timothy takes to that thankless role.
Oddly enough, The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a very affecting movie.
***½ (out of 4)