Whoever decided the release date for The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a marketing genius. The feel-good family film opened the week of or before the first day of school and takes place in a rural factory town whose major product is classic yellow pencils. Well played.
Timothy Green tells the story of Cindy (Jennifer Garner) and Jim Green (Joel Edgerton), a couple trying to adopt a child. In order to explain why they would make fit parents to Evette Onat (Shohreh Aqhdashloo), the caseworker in charge of their application, they tell the story of their time with a boy named Timothy (CJ Adams). The previous autumn, when they found out that they could not have children, they began the healing process by drinking a bottle of wine and writing down all the qualities their child would have. The couple buries their notes in a box in their garden and off to bed they go. After a pop-up thunderstorm, however, a little boy sneaks into their house and makes himself at home. Timothy has leaves on his legs and has left a crater in their garden, so Cindy and Jim quickly realize that the boy grew from their box of wishes. The Greens do the best they can as new parents, trying to protect Timothy's secret and introduce him to their pushy family, especially Cindy's braggy sister Brenda (Rosmarie DeWitt) and Jim's disapproving father, Big Jim (David Morse). Further complicating issues, the pencil factory is about to go under and the Greens are worried that Timothy is already in love with his arty friend Joni (Odeya Rush).
Visually, The Odd Life of Timothy Green is beautifully made. The backdrop of bright fall leaves along with the quaint town creates the picture of Americana. The film also has abundant whimsy, supplied by beams of sunshine and long, rotating camera angles. Given that the subject is a child who grew from a garden, nature plays a huge role in the cinematography of the film. Many of the characters create art using leaves and branches as materials and merging the natural with the whimsical. Additionally, the film's score highlights the childlike wonder of the plot in a way that ties the above components together. Timothy Green was shot with an eye for light and color. Even the characters' costumes capture the shifting of the seasons, brightening and then darkening as summer turns to fall and fall to winter.
The film, however, leans on these visuals to make up for substance that the screenplay lacks. The secondary characters are developed largely based on stereotypes or stock characters for family dramas. There's a fine line between drawing on common real-life issues and regurgitating old stories. In some of the subplots, especially those involving Jim's father and his boss (Ron Livingston), the material feels stale. In other places, such as in Timothy's puppy love with Joni, not enough time is given to the story for it to unfold organically. Rarely do I say this, but this movie could have been better had it been about twenty minutes longer and actually done the work of character development.
In terms of acting, CJ Adams does a wonderful job making Timothy loveable, warmly funny, and clueless. He waffles between wise beyond his years and a fish out of water, but that has more to do with uneven writing than bad acting. I was more taken, though, with Odeya Rush as Joni. Her character has few actual lines, but Rush conveys a great deal through her facial expressions and body language. She has wonderful stage presence. Jennifer Garner is endearing as a struggling but affectionate mother. The role, however, falls squarely into her home turf of late. There's not much depth to her performance. Likewise, Joel Edgerton goes through all the motions of the blue collar heartland dad, struggling to be a better father than his alpha male father before him. It's twenty-first century masculinity 101. Fortunately, Garner and Edgerton have natural chemistry which compensates for some of the dullness.
All told, The Odd Life of Timothy Green is touching and entertaining, but so sentimental it might trigger some people's gag reflexes. The very story line of a couple so desperate to conceive they dream a child into existence is merely the magical realism version of an over-played plotline. For its beautiful twist on a saccharine story, I rate Timothy Green 3/5 stars.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green was directed Peter Hedges with Ahmet Zappa. It runs 100 minutes and is rated PG for mild thematic elements and brief language.