Film Review – The Odd Life of Timothy Green
In the new family film The Odd Life of Timothy Green, married couple Cindy (Jennifer Garner) and Jim Green (Joel Edgerton) have been forced to accept that they cannot have a child together. He works at the local pencil factory, she works at the pencil museum, and they live in a nice older house with a lovely garden. Nothing is perfect, but they have each other, and would love to share their life with someone else. In a moment of sorrow, they make a list of all the qualities they would have liked their child to have and then bury it in the garden, hoping that this small act of closure will help them move on and accept the inevitable.
As they settle in for the night, they hear some strange noises in the house and discover a young boy (CJ Adams) covered in dirt. (Coincidentally, there is a corresponding hole in the garden.) He is about ten or so, and answers to the name of Timothy, which is the name they had chosen for a boy, had they been lucky enough to have one. While giving him a bath, they discover that he has leaves growing on his ankles. He refers to them as “Mom” and “Dad,” and it transpires that he has all the qualities of the imaginary child they could not have. They accept his presence, enroll him in school, and learn to parent a child whose existence poses more questions than it answers.
Did I like this movie? Nope. Do I think it’s okay to take your kid to it? Sure. I understand how hard it is to find a movie that is suitable for the whole family, and this is an amiable film, directed by Peter Hedges with good intentions and nice messages about love and tolerance. Some of the younger children in the audience at the screening I attended seemed bored and fidgety, but if your child is able to engage with a more a conversational, rather than action-oriented, approach, then they might enjoy it. For the most part, there is nothing harmful here, and films for young people that aren’t trying to sell toys are rare and should be encouraged. It’s a slight film that never really surprises, but doesn’t disappoint either.
It does require a great deal of suspension of disbelief though, because nothing is explained. The mystery of Timothy will remain a mystery, and if you are someone who needs their fantasy grounded in some sort of reality, you are going to be disappointed. The Greens readily accept Timothy without too many questions, as does the whole town. I find it hard to believe that this kid could get enrolled in school without an immunization record (I could not even go to grad school without a record of my measles/mumps/rubella shot) and their solution to his greenery is to make him wear tall socks. I actually think this lack of explanation works in the movie’s favor, because it allows the film’s creators to be less obvious with the lessons the audience should be learning. The audience is shown rather than told, and this was much nicer than having someone say “Timothy is here because of blah blah blah to teach you blah blah blah.”
There were two things that gave me serious pause in recommending this movie. The first is that it’s pretty sappy, and there is one moment that is almost unbearable. Timothy is asked to draw a picture of Cindy’s boss (Dianne Wiest), and as he takes off her glasses and lets down her hair, the audience started laughing pretty hard at the triteness of the situation. It only got worse, as he sits down and draws her picture with the most serious of expressions. Someone completely misjudged how this scene would play, and there were other moments, not so bad, where it appeared they took notes directly out of the melodrama playbook without thinking that such overused tropes might be recognized by the audience.
Another problematic area is Timothy’s crush on Joni (Odeya Rush), who looks much older than him, but who is playing someone around his age. (I think. Her age is somewhat ambiguous.) As he is fascinated with her, so is the camera, and I found this unsettling. She is framed in long camera shots where her actions are closely followed as if she were being watched by an adoring male viewer. While I accept (but do not like) that the male gaze is par for the course in movies, I find it singularly creepy when it is directed at a child. A potentially interesting character is turned into an object—not by Timothy, but by the camera. It stopped short of sexualizing her, but it was noticeable to me, and I found it disturbing.
I did not like this movie, but I didn’t hate it either. I think it is middle of the road fare, elevated by some good performances and a lack of crassness. So yes, you can take your family to it without too much worry, unless you think bland messages about tolerance are dangerous to family values. Then maybe don’t go see it. I’m having a hard time generating any true enthusiasm about it, but you could do way worse.
Final Grade: C