I freely admit that I went into ‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green’ with absolutely no expectations. Aside from a reminder on my calendar to attend the press screening a week or so ago, I barely was even aware of its existence. Silly me though, as this was one of the better films I’ve seen this year. It’s funny, moving, and the rare combination of both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Filmmaker Peter Hedges drew tears from me during a few moments, and that’s not something that happens too often. From the writing (by Hedges and Ahmet Zappa) and directing (Hedges, of course) all the way to the acting from the entire ensemble (notably the likes of Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Garner, and especially young CJ Adams), everything is better than you’d expect. I’m not sure if enough people are aware of this film, but it’s my hope that this review can get some folks excited for the flick, as it hits theaters on Wednesday and is well worth your time. It’s more than just a kids movie…it’s just a plain great one for people of all ages, especially whole families. Yes, this is a message movie (and another film this year to deal with magic realism, though not one on the level of ‘Ruby Sparks’, though that’s hardly this film’s fault), but it’s a good message and never preachy while always remaining very entertaining. August typically isn’t the greatest month for cinema, but this is a gem of a late summer release. I highly recommend it!
Told in flashbacks, this is the story of Cindy (Garner) and Jim (Edgerton) Green, a child-less couple in the small town of Stanleyville that wants nothing more than to start a family. When traditional methods seem fruitless, they prepare to move on, but spend one last evening imagining the child that they would have had. They write all of the ideal offspring qualities on little pieces of paper and put them in a box. They then bury it in the backyard, but one magical rainstorm later, they find a young boy named Timothy (Adams) in their home. He’s a miracle to them, literally grown in their garden, complete with leaves sprouting from his legs. Better still, he’s the exact personification of all the attributes they hoped for. He’s essentially an improbably adopted child, and the Greens immediately begin raising him as their own even as their relatives are more than a bit puzzled by Timothy’s appearance. They’re parents with the best of intentions, but like all new parents, there are bumps in the road. Timothy is incredibly unique, even more so than they realize. I’ll save where the story goes for all of you, but I was caught completely off guard by the direction the plot takes. It’s certainly sentimental, but never in a phony sort of way.
I enjoyed all of the performances in this film, though young CJ Adams is the top draw here. Adams brings life and quirk to the character in a way that walks a tightrope of sorts. Too offbeat and he’d seem like a complete writer’s construct. Too subdued and he wouldn’t come off as special as he really is. It’s a tremendously good performance from a young actor who really is just getting started in this industry. I can’t wait to see where his career goes from here. Opportunities certainly await him. As for Jennifer Garner, she’s playing a motherly role just as well as she did in ‘Juno’, though I’d argue that film had a bit more to offer overall. She’s still good here and deserves praise, that’s for sure, as it’s her best work in a little while. Joel Edgerton is taking on a much different role than we’re used to seeing from him, and he handles it quite well. It’s not quite on the level of his ‘Warrior’ performance, but you can hardly hold that against them. When Adams, Edgerton, and Garner are together on the screen they have a really nice family dynamic and the chemistry between them is noticeable. As for the rest of the cast, they all do solid jobs with small parts. The supporting players include Shohreh Aghdashloo as the woman being told the story, Rosemarie DeWitt as Cindy’s sister, Ron Livingston as Jim’s boss, David Morse as Jim’s tough father, James Rebhorn as the owner of the factory Jim works at, Odeya Rush as the girl who bonds with Timothy, M. Emmett Walsh as Cindy’s lively uncle, Dianne Wiest as Cindy’s boss, and Common as Timothy’s soccer coach. Everyone pulls their weight, but the trio of CJ Adams, Joel Edgerton, and Jennifer Garner are the best, with Adams above all.
Peter Hedges is hardly the director that you’d expect to have made this flick, but both his writing and directing are top notch here. He’s always been involved with movies dealing with family, but this is a new dynamic and it suits him quite well. The direction isn’t flashy, but it’s bright and vibrant. His screenplay, co-written by Ahmet Zappa, is truly original, sweet, and more insightful than I was expecting. The movie has a lot to say about adoption as well as parenting in general, but you’re never hit over the head with it, which is always appreciated. Hedges is a filmmaker who I think is moving ever closer to delivering a big time classic film (maybe even his long developing adaptation of the Jonathan Tropper novel ‘Everything Changes’, a personal favorite of mine) and this project has done nothing to dissuade me from that line of thinking.
I suppose the thread throughout this review of ‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green’ is how surprised I was by it. I have a sneaky suspicion that a lot of you will be too when it opens this week. Cynics need not apply, but this film is likely to melt all but the coldest hearts. It’s well made in all regards and something you really should make time to see. I don’t know if the Academy will have any interest in something like this, but I wouldn’t mind one bit if they take a shine to it in some way. Give it a shot this weekend…you’ll be glad that you did!
-Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!