If you happen to be someone who is prone to crying during sad parts of movies, then pretty early on in The Odd Life of Timothy Green you’ll know that if for some reason you didn’t bring tissues with you you’re in trouble.
Now, in a lesser production, with say a weaker script shot by a less talented director with subpar actors in front of the camera, you might be able to steel yourself against the heart-string pulling and avoid the tears because you know what’s coming. Maybe.
Not so with this film, however – if you go, bring the Kleenex®, if not for yourself then for the person sitting next to you. They’ll thank you for it.
In Green, Jim and Cynthia Green (Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Garner) are a young couple who have reached the end of their medical options as far as having a baby. One night, while trying to overcome their disappointment and sorrow, they brainstorm all the qualities they would want their kid to have and write them down on pieces of notepad paper (“honest to a fault” and “Picasso with a pencil”). They then bury those pieces of paper in a box in the garden behind their home as a way of moving on. Hours later, they’re treated to the surprise of their lives, as a young boy calling himself Timothy (C.J. Adams, Dan in Real Life) literally shows up in their house, covered in dirt from having crawled out of their garden, and calling them ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad.’
Of course, Timothy isn’t just any boy, and Jim and Cynthia, along with everyone else living in their struggling town of Stanleyville, discover in the course of the film that what makes him different goes beyond just the mysterious little leaves on his legs. He’s everything that the Greens had asked for, but as the audience knows pretty much from the start, he’s not here to stay.
The whole thing might sound like it was inspired by Pet Cemetery, but director Peter Hedges (Dan in Real Life, Pieces of April and author of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?), who wrote the script from a story credited to Ahmet Zappa, instead gives us a story with some subtle themes about the do’s and don’ts of parenting and the grief and longing that adults who can’t have children of their own go through. He’s not subtle at all, however, when it comes to foreshadowing where all of this will end up. He sets the whole story against the backdrop of an American northeastern autumn and all its falling leaves and colors, and the moment that one of Timothy’s leaves changes color and drops off, it should be clear what the rest of the film has in store for you.
Surprisingly enough, that predictability doesn’t at all diminish the film’s charm, and a great deal of that credit should go to young C.J. Adams. As Timothy, Adams projects a serenity and wisdom through his eyes and the smile he has for everyone he interacts with, whether they’re friendly to him or not. It’s a subtle performance that’s absolutely remarkable for a child actor, reminiscent of Haley Joel Osment when we first saw him in The Sixth Sense. While Garner and Edgerton are cute and likeable enough in their roles, they basically stand around and react in wonder to everything their new child says and does. You buy into their awe, but it’s by no means memorable, and in the end, that’s okay. After all, the movie’s not titled Jim and Cynthia’s Odd Parenting Story. It’s Timothy, and Adams as the actor playing him, that you’ll remember and be talking about as you walk out of the theater, and again, it’s Timothy who will get you reaching for your tissues.
Score: 3.5 out of 5
The Odd Life of Timothy Green
Starring Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, Dianne Wiest, C.J. Adams, Rosemarie DeWitt, David Morse, and Common. Directed by Peter Hedges.
Running Time: 125 minutes
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and brief language.