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The Odd Life of Timothy Green

Director: Peter Hedges
Cast: Jennifer Garner, CJ Adams, Joel Edgerton, Lois Smith, Dianne Wiest

(US DVD: 4 Dec 2012)

That YouTube viral video got it right… this movie should come with a “you will cry” warning, because even the most cynical of viewers will be unable to escape the ultimate punch-in-the-gut which the entire film is built around. However, once the tears have dried, your throat has restored some of its moisture and you’ve regained feeling in your eyelids, the film raises some fascinating questions. Was its purpose strictly to make viewers shed endless tears? Were the filmmakers so sure about its eventual emotional impact that they forgot to make a better movie before it? And if it fulfilled said achievement, does it mean that the movie is a success?


The Odd Life of Timothy Green is by no means an original story, its basic plot borrows elements from Tom Thumb, anything Dickens wrote about children and even Avatar to a certain degree (which in itself wasn’t a landmark of originality to begin with). Told in flashbacks, the film opens as Cindy and Jim Green (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton, respectively) sit in front of a severe adoption agency employee (Shoreh Agdashloo) and try to convince her they deserve to receive a child because of what they learned from Timothy. Before you ask who’s Timothy, the film has already taken us back to a golden-light-showered vision of a North Carolina town where the Greens receive the devastating news that they will never be able to conceive.


Cindy and Jim are the kind of people whose quirkily simple lives and jobs—she works in a museum, he makes pencils—make them impossible not to root for and almost cartoonesque in a way. You can imagine them going home to a giant shoe or some other sort of fantastical residence, which is why, by the time they realize they can’t have children, you know some sort of magic is just scenes away from occurring. Their prayers are answered when one night they plant a box filled with papers describing their ideal child. Following a violent storm they are surprised by the arrival of Timothy (CJ Adams), a ten-year-old who assures them he is their son.


Without any worries about legality of an unattached child—other than a brief call to the cops—the Greens welcome him into their lives and introduce Timothy to the world. The child seems perfectly normal other than for the fact that his legs are covered in tiny leaves which turn brown and fall every time he fulfills one of the Green’s wishes. With his optimistic worldview and charming demeanor, Timothy turns the town upside down, warming the hearts of people like the cruel Ms. Crudstaff (Dianne Wiest in Judi Dench in Chocolat mode) and Joni Jerome (Odeya Rush), a much older girl he befriends in school after a bullying incident gone wrong.


The film flies by because of its episodic structure and even if you can see where it’s leading from the second it starts, it still manages to deliver an emotional punch that’s probably its biggest advantage and also its most shamelessly manipulative moment. The film can be accused of bending everything to realize this purpose and as such it seems faulty, but those willing to see beyond its manipulation might be surprised to find in it a beautiful allegory for some people’s struggles with parenting.


Even though all the performers are great (kudos to director Peter Hedges for modulating the child’s performance and avoiding a grating experience) the movie truly belongs to the astonishing Jennifer Garner. The actress who has allowed her face to age gracefully shows us every wrinkle and crease that her character has grown in her eternal search for motherhood. Last time she was this effective was in her similarly themed performance in Juno, where the mere sight of her was enough to bring tears to your eyes.


Equally in The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Garner shows us the joys of watching a child play and grow, the mild fear upon realizing her child will need to know about the birds and the bees soon, and most dramatically the agonizing resignation of knowing her child will leave this Earth one day. It’s a shame that the movie’s family-oriented quirks don’t allow her to fully realize all the emotional shades she could’ve shown. It seems that nobody can play mothers onscreen like Ms. Garner.


The Odd Life of Timothy Green is presented in gorgeous high definition and features subtitles in English, French and Spanish (as well as corresponding audio tracks). Bonus features are slightly adult oriented and include a making-of documentary, in which the grownups give Streepian praise to little Adams. Also included are a feature about the score and a music video by Glen Hansard. The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a pleasant, if slightly unfulfilling, family movie that will please adults but might just require a lot of Kleenex for the kids on the way back home.

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Jose Solís wanted to be a spy since he was a child, which is why by day he works as a content editor and by night he writes and dreams of film. Although he doesn’t travel the world fighting villains, his mission is to trek the planet from screen to screen. He has been writing about film since 2003 and regularly contributes to The Film Experience and PopMatters. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society.


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