With The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Peter Hedges tells a quietly magical tale of a uniquely odd family that feels like a movie that we can return to time and again.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green unfolds as a tale being told by a pair of prospective parents – Jim (Joel Edgerton) and Cindy (Jennifer Garner) Green – to explain to a pair of not easily impressed adoption officials (one of whom is played with immense gravity by Oscar-winner Shoreh Agdashloo).
After the Greens have exhausted every medical option available to them, they are unable to have children, but before they move on with their lives, they sit down with a bottle of wine and compose a list of ten traits (honest to a fault; Picasso with a pencil; score the winning goal, etc.) their child would have had. They take the scraps of paper with those traits, place them in a small wooden box and bury them in their garden.
During the night, there is a tremendous thunderstorm (which rains down only on their property) and they are awakened by someone in the house – in the nursery they had prepared for a possible child, they find a mud covered boy (CJ Adams) who announces, “Hi. I’m Timothy”. To their amazement, once he’s cleaned up, they discover leaves growing out of his legs.
Timothy is a bright, intuitive and wise lad who sparks every maternal and paternal instinct in the Greens – to the point of overkill at some points. His school life isn’t easy, either – as the new kid, he gets hazed by a couple of bullies who turn out to be the sons of Jim’s boss at the town’s pencil factory. The factory is in danger of being closed down, which adds a layer of tension to the film.
Writer/director Peter Hedges seems to specialize in movies about uniquely odd families, magical or otherwise – his past films include What’s Eating gilbert Grape and Dan in Real Life (which was Adams’ only previous movie) – so it’s no wonder that he creates a unique family here and is not the least bit hesitant to show their faults as well as their good points.
Timothy is not just the Greens’ miracle – he has an effect on the entire town of Stanleyville before the film is over – and Adams is simply amazing as Timothy. He has this way of listening to everyone like he’s hearing what they’re saying for the first time, and when he replies, he comes across as completely real.
Edgerton and Garner condense every good and bad aspect of first time parents into the abbreviated space of the film. They’re supportive, loving, kind and proud – but get too invested and too eager, at times. They want what’s best for Timothy but sometimes get that confused with what they want for themselves. Despite the film’s use of one magical element, everything else follows logically and feels not only real, but right.
One especially bright note is the way Timothy finds himself intrigued by Joni (Odeya Rush), a girl from school, whom he shows his leaves and who shows him that he’s not the only one with a secret. She also sparks a fiercely overprotective streak in Cindy – that plays out in a most unexpected confrontation.
The rest of the cast is composed of terrific actors who take their small – but important – roles and give them unexpected depths. Especially noteworthy are M. Emmett Walsh as Cindy’s Uncle Bub – a man who can be funny without resorting to meanness or burbs and farts – and Dianne Wiest as Cindy’s curmudgeonly boss at the Stanleyville Pencil Museum.
Ron Livingston (Office space, Defying Gravity), Rosemary DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married, Mad Men), Lois Smith (True Blood, ER), David Morse (The Green Mile, House) and Common (Hell on wheels) are also standouts in minor roles.
Hedges directs with an eye towards folding nature around every event in the film – from the cherry on top during Timothy`s hazing, to the Greens` garden, to a stunningly beautiful art piece created by timothy and Joni. He keeps the pace just a hair above deliberate – quick enough to keep younger viewers involved but slow enough to give the characters (even the minor ones) a chance to be seen as people rather than plot points.
As both writer and director, Hedges is able to takes the highs and lows – the joy and poignancy – of the Greens’ lives over the course of the film and give them the weight they deserve.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green may not be the next ET, but it is Disney at its best and possessed of a certain timeless quality that makes the possibility of it being a lasting work very likely.
Final Grade: A