Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

The Odd Life of Timothy Green features sensitive performances by Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton as Cindy and Jim Green, a married couple suffering the loss of childlessness. Rosemarie DeWitt is excellent as Cindy’s sister, a mother of children she drives to be perfect while David Morse gives a solid performance as the father who was not always there for Jim. As Timothy Green, young CJ Adams is nicely understated, allowing his whimsically cute face to establish a wonderful presence. As mutual outcasts, Timothy and a dark-haired hippie girl named Joni, played sincerely by Odeya Rush, establish a kindred-spirit alliance as memorably touching as the relationship between Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. While Geoff Zanelli’s thoughtful musical score suits the film’s fanciful tone, the talented cinematography of John Toll captures the dazzle of autumn woods and the simple beauty of small-town America. In addition, the direction of John Hedges (writer for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) makes up for any slips into silliness by keeping the pacing tight and carrying the story along to some delightful surprises. All of these strengths support an often powerful story about life and death; parenting, both good and bad; dealing with loss; coping with a child’s handicap; suffering ostracism and alienation; tolerating differences; persevering in the face of hopelessness; and gaining fulfillment in unexpected ways.

Sounds great! So let’s stop there. Oh, yeah, the story. I’ve told you what The Odd Life of Timothy Green is about, but I haven’t told you what it’s about. Okay, well, here goes. It’s about this couple, Jim and Cindy, and they are told they can’t have kids, so Cindy is at home crying, and Jim says they should hold one last hope, so they drink wine and write down their wishes for what their child would be like if they had one, each wish on a separate chit of paper, and they put the pieces of paper in a box, and they bury the box in Cindy’s vegetable garden, and I guess they have sex, but it only shows the bedroom light going out, but, hey, this is a Disney movie, and it rains even though there’s been a drought, and that night they find a ten-year-old boy named Timothy running around their house naked and muddy, and, uh, yeah, right, you guessed it, there’s a big muddy hole in Cindy’s garden as though something has grown right out of the box they buried, so that’s mind-blowing, yeah, but it beats dealing with adoption agencies (which is pointedly satirized by the film’s wraparound scenario in which Jim and Cindy are telling their bizarre tale to a dour adoption agent played by the ever-dour Shohreh Aghdashioo), and Timothy’s a cute, an enchanting little boy, except the one thing is, uh, here goes, he has leaves growing out of his ankles, but, hell, what are leaves growing out of ankles when you’ve finally got a kid and you didn’t have to go through an adoption agency or hire a surrogate mother who doesn’t want to give up the kid at the last minute and takes it to court, so they keep Timothy, and send him to school, a big mistake, because we know what kids are going to do to a boy like Timothy, and later the things Jim and Cindy wrote on the chits of paper all come true in one way or another, and Timothy is regarded as odd by some, but many are touched by him, and, finally, autumn comes and the leaves change color and fall, and Timothy’s leaves change color and fall . . .

Phew! Got that done. And now you expect me to tell you how silly this movie is. Well, I’m not gong to. Want me to tell you that it takes its premise to ridiculous extremes? Can’t do that either because it doesn’t. One of the best films of the year, The Odd Life of Timothy Green assumes the tone of a fable and delivers its many morals with charm and grace. Despite some of its simplistic, Disney Channel scenarios, it covers many serious topics very effectively. We’ve all suffered loss. There’s that something we’ll never get. This movie portrays that feeling sharply. Ever felt like an outcast? Ever yearned for a soul mate to share your alienation? This film captures the pain of that yearning. Ever been the parent of a child who is “different”? The Odd Life of Timothy Green zeroes in on that feeling sharply. This is not just a cute fairytale about a boy who brings joy and provides lessons and leaves people with the strength to go on. Behind Timothy’s cute face is an awareness of the hard things in life. Timothy knows what it means when the leaves fall.

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