Magic Blossoms in Oddly Charming Timothy Green
Cindy (Jennifer Garner) and Jim Green (Joel Edgerton) cannot have a child. They’ve tried everything, run all of the tests and gone through all of the standard medical procedures. They’ve followed the rules and put themselves in debt in the process, striking out every time even though their hearts are telling them they’d be excellent parents.
One night to assuage their grief they compile a list of who they’d want their kid to become as they grow up. Silly stuff, like how their kid would ‘kick the winning goal’ or be ‘honest to a fault.’ The place their dreams of parenthood in an old wooden box and then bury it in their garden, going to sleep snuggled within one another’s arms trying to make the best of a situation they sadly have zero control over.
There is a storm during the night, which is strange considering they’re in the middle of a drought. Next there is a thump in the kitchen followed by a noise of someone or something coming up the stairs. Finally there is the sound of a softly creaking door leading to the room their child would have slept in, all of which forces Cindy and Jim to investigate, the pair discovering a mud-covered boy calling himself Timothy (CJ Adams) quietly waiting for them.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green is fantasy. Working from a story by Ahmet Zappa, screenwriter and director Peter Hedges (Dan in Real Life, Pieces of April) has constructed a family fable that fits comfortably inside the Disney canon, reminding me of films like Bridge to Terabithia, One Magic Christmas and Candleshoe. It moved me in ways I can’t quite put into words while at the same time has me sitting here scratching my head a bit underwhelmed by the aspects that don’t comfortably gel together. But the movie does work, and while I’m having trouble giving Hedges’ latest a full embrace a politely affable hug certainly isn’t out of the question.
The early bits work the best. Timothy’s magical appearance, the magical visual of a raging thunderstorm working in reverse, the way Cindy and Jim discover the boy’s soil-enriched secret, all of it is a beguiling mix of whimsy, emotion and melodrama I couldn’t help but love. I liked that things didn’t need to be spelled out or over-explained. Timothy’s appearance just is, which is exactly as it should be, all of which helps make the Green’s embrace of him even more richly rewarding.
There are little issues, some of them not too big a deal but others more vexing. Side stories involving the potential closing of the town’s legendary pencil factory (where Jim is a manager) and Timothy’s attempts to fit in with the rest of the family (most notably Cindy’s perfectionist sister played by a woefully underutilized Rosemarie DeWitt) uncomfortably shift in tone and are difficult to warm up to. Most annoying is a framing device involving Shohreh Aghdashloo, the Greens telling her their story for reasons best discovered while watching the film even if these moments are far to undernourished to be satisfying.
But there are a number of scenes that broke my heart, made me smile and had my soul overflowing with joy. One sequence between Adams and veteran character actor M. Emmet Walsh is hypnotic in its subtly honest simplicity, while another meet-cute moment involving Odeya Rush nothing short of divine. As for the ending, while what happens is hardly surprising, Hedges still managed to earn my tears, and I don’t feel even slightly ashamed for shedding a single solitary one of them.
There are certainly times where I felt the script didn’t go far enough or didn’t take enough time to flesh out its supporting players. It also doesn’t deal with the situation at the pencil factory and the subsequent resolution to the town’s problems in a way that was entirely pleasing even if it is admittedly imaginative. Yet Garner and Edgerton are superb, while young Adams is an ethereal standout. Even if it is far from perfect I enjoyed The Odd Life of Timothy Green quite a bit. There is magic happening here, maybe just enough to make this a motion picture I’ll revisit in the future and think even better of the second time around.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)