The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a fantasy or modern-day fairy tale, but unlike most fairy tales this one is told from the perspective of the grown-ups rather than the child. It’s a story about learning how to parent, how to accept the mistakes that are inevitably made, and how to love without possessing. This Disney release is a throwback to the kind of live-action family films the studio used to make: heartfelt yet light, touching on dark themes but burnishing the sharp edges with magical fairy dust. Solid central performances – by Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton as the parents, Cindy and Jim Green, and the terrific child actor CJ Adams as the titular Timothy – help sell the make-believe.
The story begins on the day that Cindy and Jim learn that no further medical strategies can be tried to fix their childless union. In a final gasp of their dashed dreams, the couple fantasizes about the characteristics their biological child would have had, writing each attribute on a slip of paper and then burying the papers in a beautiful box in their garden. As happens in fairy tales, a freakish storm occurs that night, and from the Greens’ muddy garden emerges a 10-year-old boy named Timothy, who is ostensibly normal in all but one regard: He has leaves on his calves. But this oddity seems like nothing a pair of knee-highs can’t fix, and the tiny community of Stanleyville easily accepts Timothy as the Greens’ new son. Like all new parents, Cindy and Jim vow not to make the same mistakes their own parents made in child-rearing.
The story falters as it progresses and introduces more characters. A stupendous cast is completely wasted in underwritten roles as various family members and employers in the town’s sole enterprise: pencil production. David Morse as Jim’s unsupportive father, Rosemarie DeWitt as Cindy’s competitive sister, and Dianne Wiest as the pencil heiress have frustratingly slim duties, although newcomer Odeya Rush has a nice turn as Timothy’s one true friend. I’m not familiar with the story by Ahmet Zappa upon which the film is based, but an interest in family dynamics is a running concern throughout writer/director Peter Hedges’ work. Hedges wrote the screenplays for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and About a Boy (which was nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar) before branching into directing his own scripts with Pieces of April and Dan in Real Life. Hedges has demonstrated his sensitivity to internecine family conflicts and the tenor of small-town life. However, The Odd Life of Timothy Green seems always to be straining for whimsy and wonder. The story’s outcome is never in question after the first leaf falls from the boy’s leg. This is not another story “about a boy.” This is the story about the parents, Cindy and Jim Green, who must learn to curb a perceived overinvolvement in their child’s life and enjoy the graces of family life for the limited time they might exist. Timothy is merely a creative construct that helps the couple learn how to be better parents.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Peter Hedges, Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, CJ Adams, Odeya Rush, Shohreh Aghdashioo, Rosemarie DeWitt, David Morse, M. Emmet Walsh, Lois Smith, Dianne Wiest, Ron Livingston, James Rebhorn, Common