August 23, 2012

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

Careful, those are my cousins you're tossing around

Grade: C –
Director: Peter Hedges
Starring: Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, CJ Adams, Shohreh Aghdashloo, David Morse, Ron Livingston, Dianne Wiest and Common
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hr. 40 min.

The only thing odder than the life of Timothy Green is that its story didn’t sprout from the pages of children’s book. Indeed, I assumed it had before viewing this brainchild of Ahmet Zappa, turned into a Disney fantasy drama written and directed by N.C. School of the Arts alum Peter Hedges (About a Boy; Pieces of April).

As she did in Juno, Jennifer Garner again plays an infertile aspirant mother. But instead of employing the services of pregnant, wiseacre teen, Cindy Green (Garner) and her husband Jim (Joel Edgerton) write down their characteristics of the ideal son and literally plant them in the garden. One nocturnal downpour later and an 11-year-old boy named Timothy (CJ Adams) appears in their nursery, a sapling who calls them “Mom and Dad” and comes caked in mud and precociousness.

Oh, Timothy also has leaves growing from his legs, a strange plot turn since you not only have no idea why a boy forged from dirt and paper would retain foliage growing around his ankles, but their purpose—the difficulties in being different—is allayed by the fact that Cindy and Jim conceal Timothy’s phyllotaxis with tube socks.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green seeps buckets of sap, but its timidity is its real undoing. The fantastic foundation of the tale—told via flashbacks (for no reason) to the world’s worst adoption agents (Shohreh Aghdashloo and Michael Arden) is undercut by a noncreative plot involving Jim’s efforts to save the town’s venerable pencil factory and Timothy’s relationship with an introverted classmate (Odeya Rush) who gravitates to Timothy’s peculiar personality.

Throughout his time, Timothy melts frigid hearts and makes an old man laugh on his death bed. Yet, no one—especially Cindy and Jim’s family—questions where Timothy came from or how the couple apparently adopted a child so quietly and expeditiously. Instead, characters over-emote like students in a film school project, reciting or shouting dialogue that oscillates from inconsequential to nonsensical: “If this boy can have a leaf on his ankle, then we can make a pencil out of leaves,” proclaims Dianne Wiest, a long way from winning two Oscars.

Along the way, Jim confronts the resent he harbors towards his father (David Morse), who was “never there” even though he now shows up at every soccer game and family gathering. Meanwhile, Cindy wants her sister Brenda (Rosemarie DeWitt) to approve of her mothering skills, even though Brenda is an insecure, patronizing harridan not above embarrassing an 11-year-old in social settings.

The lessons in The Odd Life of Timothy Green remain as perplexing as the genesis of the titular triffid. It’s simplemindedness, not sentimentality, which prunes this parable.

Neil Morris

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