I can’t recall the last time a movie started off by impressing me with its execution, its heart, its humor and tenderness, and then pissed me off by its final frames. The Odd Life of Timothy Green not only managed to anger me so much that I’ll never watch this film again, but it devastated my family who were watching with me. My wife even declared that she hated the movie.
This Disney fantasy film begins with a married couple, Cindy and Jim Green (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton), sitting before two representatives from an adoption agency. When the grumpy woman in charge interrogates them about their application, she pauses on the answer they gave for what prepared them to become parents. Their answer is simply, “Timothy.”
The film then begins a flashback narrative in which Cindy and Jim describe their lives small town Stanleyville, NC, where a pencil factory keeps most of the citizens employed. In one heartbreaking scene, the loving couple learns that they can’t have children through natural childbirth. Devastated, they decide to write down every quality they wish their child would have had. Each quality is written on a piece of paper and placed in a wooden box. When they can take no more or the sadness, Cindy and Jim bury the box in their garden and go to bed.
That night magic happens. A strange thunderstorm pours down only over the Green’s farmhouse. After the rain, Cindy and Jim are awakened by strange noises. They’re startled to find a 10 year-old boy covered in mud sitting in the nursery they’d built. His name is Timothy, and they soon learn that he’s no ordinary boy. He literally grew from their garden like a plant (he even has leaves on his legs) and he’s there to be taken care of by the Greens.
Family and friends are told that the Greens have adopted Timothy and the boy seems like the perfect child for the Greens. It quickly becomes obvious that all of the virtues the Greens buried in the box are the makeup of this kind young boy. Even when bullies smear food all over him, Timothy manages to laugh it off. Timothy’s kindness and ability to makes others believe in themselves changes the life of everyone he comes in contact with, from tomboy he has a crush on (Odeya Rush) to Jim’s hardened father (David Morse). More importantly, Timothy proves to Jim and Cindy that they are worthy of being parents.
Up to this point, The Odd Life of Timothy Green is enjoyable. Despite some strange plot holes, the performances of Garner, Edgerton and Adams are appealing enough to warm your heart. But then, the leaves on Timothy’s legs begin to fall off. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s happening.
And that’s where my anger comes from. By the end of the film I’d felt like I was manipulated by the filmmakers. “Surely this can’t be the case,” I told my daughter after she blurted what she thought (and knew) what was happening. “This is Disney. They’re selling this as entertainment for the whole family.” I kept hoping that my daughter’s intuitiveness about Timothy’s fate was wrong.
I will never doubt my daughter again, when it comes to movie plots.
By the end of this film my entire family was in tears, and not in the good way the filmmakers intended. Whatever uplifting intentions they had were muted and bittersweet.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green was directed by Peter Hedges, an Academy Award nominee from co-writing the adaptation of About A Boy, and the writer/director of the excellent Steve Carrell film, Dan in Real Life. Hedges does a nice job helming this film, drawing strong performances from his leads, as well as the great supporting cast that also includes Dianne Wiest, Rosemarie Dewitt and Ron Livingston. The score by Geoff Zanelli is quite moving, and cinematographer John Toll provides the look of the film with plenty of warm and autumn-like colors. By all tokens this would be a good film, if I didn’t feel like I’d been manipulated for 100 minutes. That’s what I can’t get past. Great movies usually make me say, “Wow, I can’t wait to see that again.” Not this one. I’m curious if any of you will watch it again after your first time.
The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack for The Odd Life of Timothy Green is well stocked with bonus features; like most Disney films are (the studio does a great job with their home video releases). Among the bonuses are a featurette on the making of the film, a look at the writing of “This Gift,” the song by Glen Hansard that accompanies the film, and feature commentary by the director.