Thursday, August 16, 2012

the odd life and odd film that is timothy green

What an odd little film is The Odd Life of Timothy Green. It's certainly not what my eight year old daughter expected. It's a fairy tale and a meditation on life and love. For anyone who thinks from the previews that this Disney film will just be about a cute boy who has leaves on his legs is in for a bit more. The movie, directed and written by Peter Hedges (About A Boy, Dan in Real Life, What's Eating Gilbert Grape) from an idea by Ahmet Zappa, starts off with a young married couple, Cindy (Jennifer Garner) and Jim Green (Joel Edgerton), who are being given the bad news that after many attempts and procedures and lots and lots of expense, they are unable to have a child. They are bereft. Their sad mood extends to the depressed town, Stanleyville, they live in, with its multiple closings and threats of job loss. Everyone in town seems to be cranky or unhappy.

As a sort of closure exercise to how hard they have tried to have a child and failed, they decide (after drinking a lot of wine) to write down what their kid would have been like (a big heart, always truthful, not great at sports but would one day kick the winning goal, etc.), and they place all of the notes in a wooden box and bury it in their garden. That is not the end of their hopes but the beginning.

A storm rages that night — only over their house — and they awake to find a 10-year-old boy (CJ Adams), covered in dirt, and a big hole in their garden where the box was buried. Their dreams have come true and their new son Timothy is very special, indeed — he has beautiful green leaves growing out of his lower legs. Timothy has a special effect on everyone he encounters. But it isn't always positive. The Odd Life of Timothy Green is full of small and quirky supporting characters: Ron Livingston as Jim's horrible boss (a nice switch from his part in Office Space); Dianne Wiest as Cindy's not-quite-as-horrible-as-Jim's boss; Odeya Rush as Joni,  a girl who befriends Timothy and sees him for how special he is; David Morse as Jim's hard-to-please father; Common as Timothy's not very encouraging soccer coach; and Shohreh Aghdashloo as a woman who works at an adoption agency.

Timothy makes friends with Joni
The Greens take Timothy to a horticulturist friend for a check-up
Timothy practices some photosynthesis
The magical realism in the movie may be a bit difficult for some audience members (and not just the kids) to grasp. They may just find it corny. So many of the Greens' friends, family, and neighbors are just cruel or stupid and border on caricature. What is truly unique about the film is how it points out that no matter how hard the Greens have wanted a child, when he finally turns up they haven't the slightest idea of what to do with him. Just having set up a nursery/kid's room doesn't mean they have any idea on how to parent. They make mistakes, jump to crazy conclusions, hover and fumble their way through each day with their unusual son. This is true for all parents. No matter how many handbooks might be consulted, children and life are highly unpredictable and uncontrollable. The Greens are also wrapped up in competing with their families — Cindy with her over-achieving, snobbish sister and Jim trying to prove that he will be a better, more attentive father than his father was to him.

What is at the heart of The Odd Life of Timothy Green is how odd it is, not to be a boy with leaves on his legs, but a parent. It's about yearning, and feelings. It's sweet and even sappy at times. Nothing blows up. It might be a tad too sentimental for some, but it's so earnest that its hard to be hard on it. Like Timothy and Cindy and Jim it has a big heart.

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