Synopsis: A childless couple bury a box in their backyard, containing all of their wishes for an infant. Soon, a child is born, though Timothy Green is not all that he appears.
Stars: Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, CJ Adams, Dianne Wiest, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ron Livingston
Director: Peter Hedges
Running Length: 101 minutes
Random Crew Highlight: Greens Gangboss ~ Michael J. Flynn
TMMM Score: (3/10)
Review: As I mentioned in my review of the trailer for The Odd Life of Timothy Green, I long for the days of the classic Disney live-action film. Throughout the 60’s Walt Disney Studios put forth some classic (Mary Poppins) and quaint (Summer Magic) films that were family friendly, imaginative, and the perfect embodiment of a society that was on the brink of change. The 70’s gave way to some clunkier Disney fare but even these lesser films are remembered fondly. In the new millennium Disney changed its approach to true life tales, capitalizing on tugged heartstrings more than special effects.
Disney’s latest offering, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, is an odd duck indeed…springing from the minds of two men that tried to follow the skeleton of the traditional grand Disney fare but winding up with a film that’s mediocre and forgettable. While the story it tells may be interesting, the clumsy execution and erratic performances go to battle with what I’m sure was well-intentioned filmmaking.
Upon the eve of finding out that after years of trying to have a child all hope is gone, a small town couple mopes around their day jobs and retreats back to their conveniently secluded home for more moping. They do break the gloom and doom by writing down all the qualities they would have wanted in a child, putting the sheets of paper in a box, and burying them in their garden. Faster than you can say Mary, Mary Quite Contrary, a sudden storm in the rain-starved town yields a small boy with leaves growing out of his calves that calls them mom and dad.
Now this sounds like a plot that has some potential…and it probably did before the writers kept going and grafted the lesser premises of better movies onto the film. Even the casual moviegoer would expect this mysterious boy to produce some uniquely magical results but it never happens. Timothy just moves from situation to situation without doing much more than smile, performing a strange sun salutation, and befriending a local girl that’s a bit of a misfit too.
I kept waiting for the movie to take off but it stays so frustratingly grounded in reality that you wonder if everyone involved forgot they were making a Disney family film. The story is told as part of an interview the couple is having with an adoption agency and the film switches back and forth between present and past too often…you never settle into a rhythm of the storytelling. The film also cheats a little too much with the timeframe of events by having Timothy start school nearly the next day after he is discovered. Nobody seems to question the fact that this couple suddenly has this boy…not even their close family.
Large scale plot points such as a town in a draught, the closing of the local pencil factory, and familial angst are introduced and forgotten at the discretion of director Hedges and screenwriter Ahmet Zappa (son of Frank Zappa which may explain the slightly hippie-dippy vibe). Everything brought forth is in service to what is happening in the here and now and none of it feels truly authentic.
A small note about the pencil factory because it features so prominently in the story. Over the opening credits we are shown images of daily life in the factory town in which the action takes place. Jim (Edgerton) works at the factory and Cindy (Garner) works in the town museum giving tours of the history of the pencil industry. The word pencil and images of #2’s are included so much in the first five minutes you just might think the town is named Pencilburg, Pencilvania.
With a plot this out of control and wobbly, a strong cast is needed to be the glue that brings it all together. Sadly, the rogue assembly here is not up to the challenge. Edgerton is an interesting actor from Down Under but seems quite out of place as he struggles with hiding his accent and creating any sort of chemistry with Garner or his faux son (Adams). Adams starts off well enough but is quickly absorbed by the maudlin nature of the script and nearly disappears all-together. Even interesting character actors like Livingston, DeWitt and David Morse are given short shrift – they are at sea in underdeveloped roles.
Two big problems in the acting department are Garner (which is expected) and Wiest (which is not). Only Sally Field rivals Garner in the Ugly Crying Face department –she seems to always have a look on her face indicating she’s on the verge of tears. I think she could be sipping Mai-Tais surrounded by baby lambs in a beach chair and still look like she wants to weep. Garner has a natural motherly instinct about her, so it’s troubling that the script seems intent on making her and Edgerton come off as clueless dopes on anything child related. Don’t you think that two people who so desperately want kids would know a thing or two about raising a child? One particular head-scratcher is why the script dictates that when the Green parents see Timothy take a shine to the local outcast girl, they instantly argue over who has to have the “birds and the bees” talk with him….never mind he’s not yet 10 years old. Maybe it’s a problem of over-committal on Garner’s part – she’s so invested in the character that it comes off slightly goofy and not in a good way.
Two time Oscar winner Wiest is featured in a brief but mostly embarrassing cameo as the local rich witch boss of Garner. I’ll give the film some credit for a sequence where she gets her comeuppance with a non-standard outcome…but Wiest looks uncomfortable with the tone and can’t lock into playing a big ole’ meanie. Her final line is a battle cry about pencil production that surely is a low point in a bright career.
It’s such a silly movie overall that whatever happens at the end is really secondary to the preposterousness of the situation. A good Disney film makes you forget about all the wires pulling the strings and focus on the puppet dancing in front of you. The Odd Life of Timothy Green is using black, frayed extension cords for marionette strings so you can’t help but look at the flaws on display. It may fill a gap for families looking for a film to take their kids to but for everyone else it’s one I’d suggest to avoid it.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green will be released in theaters on August 15