Writer-director Peter Hedges third feature film, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, a fable which casts the appealing duo of Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton as a childless married couple in small-town USA with insurmountable fertility issues calls upon its audience to suspend their disbelief from the beginning straight through the predictable end.
Framed around scenes of Cindy and Jim Green (Garner and Edgerton) telling a justifiably skeptical adoption agency director (solidly played by Oscar nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo, The House of Sand and Fog), the increasingly preposterous, yet entirely factual account of how they came to be the one-time parents of the title character, a sprightly 10-year-old who appears to them one night covered in mud with leaves growing out of his lower legs, The Odd Life of Timothy Green has its heart in the right place, but its soul is a half-empty vessel with mouse ears.
Sure, the film is a fable, so suspension of disbelief is a necessity, but even in a fable there has to be a degree of truth. For example, Cindy and Jim live in a close-knit, small town community where everybody knows everybody, and hearing things through the grapevine is still the main way most information is disseminated, so how odd (pun intended) is it that nobody seriously questions either of them about how Timothy came to be in their care? How do they enroll him into school without a birth certificate or shot records, real or fake? And then there’s Timothy’s odd habit of stopping whatever he’s doing – be it a family get together, a round of dodge ball with his grandfather, or a crucial play during a school soccer game – to face the sun, raise his arms stretched out wide, taking a moment to soak it all in. Only one person – in the entire movie – consistently calls that out as “odd.”
Oddly enough, the film’s saving grace is the lead performance of CJ Adams as Timothy. This summer has already played host to one of the best child performances in recent film history – Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild. Adams’ refreshingly understated performance, if not exactly Wallis’ equal, certainly heralds the arrival of a fresh, new talent to the big screen. He takes cloying material, scripted by Hedges, based on a story by one of the film’s producers, Ahmet Zappa (son of the late-musician Frank Zappa), and works his own sort of magic on it, making it go down a lot easier than it likely would have otherwise.
Members of the supporting cast do some nice work, like the aforementioned Aghdashloo, an underused Dianne Wiest as Garner’s ball-busting boss who could give The Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda Priestly a run for her fashionable money, Lois Smith and M. Emmet Walsh as Garner’s devoted aunt and uncle, and David Morse as Edgerton’s rough-around-the-edges father.
With Hedges’ first two features, the enchanting Pieces of April (2003) which starred Katie Holmes (pre-Tom Cruise) and Patricia Clarkson (in an Oscar-nominated performance) and the little-seen 2007 gem Dan in Real Life starring Steve Carrell (delivering what is arguably his best film performance to date) and Juliette Binoche, Hedges found an appealing mix of reel world whimsy and real world pathos.
With The Odd Life of Timothy Green, there’s plenty of whimsy and traces of pathos but not much outside of Adams’ performance as the title character rings all that real.
Grade: 2 stars (out of 5)
Stars: Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, CJ Adams, Dianne Wiest, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ron Livingston, David Morse, M. Emmet Walsh, Odeya Rush, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Lois Smith, Shohreh Aghdashloo, James Rebhorn and Common
Directed By: Peter Hedges
Screenplay By: Peter Hedges
Story By: Ahmet Zappa
Produced By: Ahmet Zappa, Scott Sanders and Jim Whitaker
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Rating: PG, for mild thematic elements and brief language.
Running Time: Approximately 100 minutes
Budget: $40 million
Release Date: August 15, 2012