I’m not a big fan of movies about cute smarty-pants kids who are more intelligent than their parents and end up teaching the adults lessons about love and life. Truth is I have a rather curmudgeonly outlook on kids in general – and many of their parents as well. But The Odd Life of Timothy Green, a movie about a fantasy child who is brought to life by the buried hopes and dreams of his infertile parents, was somehow able to win me over – and that was an incredible feat.
In this family fantasy fable, Jim Green (Joel Edgerton) and his wife Cindy (Jennifer Garner) have exhausted all means of having a child together and have given up the hope of ever being parents. Over a bottle of wine they concede that they will forever be childless and in an effort to move forward in their lives they write down everything that they would have wanted their perfect child to be and bury the wishes in their backyard garden.
That night, a mysterious rain storm comes along and a ten-year old child sprouts from the garden, spawned by the Green’s buried wish-list. The couple finds Timothy naked and muddy in their bed (in a very awkward moment) and he’s immediately referring to them as Mom & Dad. The Greens see a hole in the ground where their kid-wishes were planted and it all makes perfect Disneyesque sense.
Timothy is the fantasy child that the Greens have always dreamed of, with the exception of leaves that are growing from just above the ankles on his legs. As Timothy becomes accepted into the small community where the Greens live, he begins interacting with the townspeople and fulfilling the child-design specifications that Jim & Cindy made; and after each aspiration is achieved the boy loses one of his leaves. When all the leaves are gone… Well, you don’t have to be a pediatric-botanist to figure that part out.
The story of Timothy is told with a flashback narrative style in which the Greens are relaying their experiences with the boy to adoption agency workers, in hope of being able to adopt another child. This method of telling the story telegraphs its ending almost from the beginning of the film, but as the saying goes; it’s the journey, not the destination that’s important.
Timothy is an awkward child who is naive, yet wise beyond his years. He is honest to a fault, but his honesty always serves a righteous purpose. He’s the stereotypical ‘smarty-pants’ kid mentioned earlier and this character would never have worked without the casting of CJ Adams as Timothy Green.
This young Adams gives an inspirational performance in the title role and he reminded me of Henry Thomas (E.T.) and Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense). He is charming, cute, smart, witty and all the things I dislike in manipulative movie minors, but Adams as Timothy still managed to warm over my cold cynical heart and just made me feel good.
My feelings towards the adult Greens do not fare as well, but that’s a good thing. Their selfishness in treating the dream-child as a trophy helps to ground the movie in reality. Whether writer/director Peter Hedges (Dan in Real Life) intended to or not, he has created a kind-hearted, thought-provoking film that for me asks some serious questions. Questions like, what are the conscious reasons (if any) that people choose to have children and are those reasons completely self-serving?
There are fine adult performances in this film also, especially by Dianne Wiest and the hairy-chinned Ms. Crudstaff, the poet/actor Common as the soccer coach and M. Emmet Walsh as Uncle Bub. Timothy’s parents however (Edgerton & Garner) are often stiff and without character – possibly having given all of their personalities to the fantasy child.
The scenery of the film’s fictitious town of Stanleyville (filmed in various Georgia locations) is beautiful and appropriate as the background for this heart-warming story. There is a simple sub-plot involving the Stanleyville Pencil Factory that leads to one of the film’s climatic moments and keeping this story simple, straightforward and sweet, like a pencil, is another key to The Odd Life of Timothy Green’s success.
Timothy covers a lot of ground in the short time he is with the Greens and he teaches life-lessons to everyone he meets along the way; sometimes in unexpected ways that fortunately make the sappiness of this film a lot more tolerable. In the end though, I wasn’t convinced that his parents, like many parents that make this journey in real-life, actually learned anything.