The Odd Life of Timothy Green

Critic rating:
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MPAA rating: PG
Genre: Drama
After an infertile couple (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) bury a box in their garden filled with handwritten dreams about the child they'll never have, a mysterious 10-year-old boy (C.J. Adams) turns up the next day, covered in dirt.
Starring: Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, Ron Livingston, Rosemarie DeWitt, Dianne Wiest, Michael Arden, Common, Lois Smith, Mattie Liptak, Rhoda Griffis
Director: Peter Hedges
Release: Opened Aug 15, 2012
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Editorial Review

'The Odd Life of Timothy Green' movie review
By Michael O’Sullivan
Friday, August 17, 2012

The title character of “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” Disney’s two-ply weeper about a mysterious 10-year-old boy who pops up in the backyard of a childless couple, is indeed odd. Covered with mud -- the result of the fact that he has seemingly crawled out of the family’s cabbage patch -- he’s also marked by a disturbing deformity: leaves sprouting from his lower legs.

Odder still is this: The people that Timothy (CJ Adams) almost immediately starts calling “Mom” and “Dad” (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) react in pretty much the same way as someone who’s just found a stray cat. They start raising him as their own, without so much as a glance at www.missingkids.com.

Never mind that Timothy, by all evidence, seems to have been wished into existence by his unofficial adoptive parents. Unable to conceive, Cindy and Jim Green stay up late the night before Timothy’s arrival, drinking red wine and writing down all the qualities they want in a child, and then planting the scraps of paper in a box in the garden.

Sense of humor? Check. Big heart? Check. Artistically gifted? Check. Talk about a dream child. What exactly did Cindy put in that fertilizer?

Directed with an appropriately light touch by Peter (“Pieces of April”) Hedges -- who also wrote the screenplay, based on a story idea by producer Ahmet Zappa -- the movie goes down easily enough, considering its far-fetched premise. Garner and Edgerton bring an earnest likability to their parts. And Adams has a winning smile and plentiful screen presence. Still, anyone with an expectation of reality, or an aversion to mawkish melodrama, should probably stay home.

In short order, Timothy starts transforming the lives of those he encounters, dispensing lessons in humility, hope, happiness and honesty, teaching by example, like a mini-Messiah. He also demonstrates the strange ability to conjure sunshine through the clouds, merely by spreading his arms and gazing heavenward.

In truth, however, the stance is less Christ-like than tree-like. Remember those leaves? They figure prominently here. As autumn rolls around, Timothy’s foliage starts changing color and falling off, with ominously increasing frequency. It’s a broad hint at a less-than-happy ending.

Did I say hint? The movie, which is framed as one long flashback, starts with Cindy and Jim in the office of an adoption agency, apparently looking for a replacement for their magical son.

Cindy at one point refers to Timothy as a miracle, but he really is a metaphor. He’s less a real boy than a literary device, representing -- take your pick -- never giving up; the beauty of difference; and the inevitability of loss. The bloodlessness of the character, however, detracts a little from the undeniably affecting nature of the story, which is supposed to be about how great Cindy and Jim would be as “real” parents.

If that’s the case, though, why are they so selfish? Many of the qualities they wish for in Timothy -- sports and music ability, for instance, which manifest themselves in ways they don’t expect -- exist only to make them look good. Timothy is someone they can show off to Jim’s hyper-competitive father (David Morse) and Cindy’s catty sister (Rosemarie DeWitt).

In the end, what mars “Timothy Green” most is its middle-of-the-road approach. Its appealingly quirky, fairy-tale-like center is so coated with sugar, it cloys. It’s not that “Timothy Green” is odd, but that it isn’t odd enough.

Contains brief, mild vulgarity and sad themes.