My first impressions of The Odd Life of Timothy Green was that it was okay. I didn’t feel inspired, or have the kind of emotional response I expected. Still, there wasn’t really anything blatantly awful or annoying that ruined it for me.* I didn’t love it, or particularly hate it, and I thought it had a few really nice scenes.
After giving it some time to settle, I realized I did not like the movie at all. It has a promising concept that rests on that old “Disney magic'” we’ve come to love and accept. So when a kid grows out of the ground over night for a desperate couple who’ve planted a box full of their fantasy child’s dream qualities, you just go with it. Unfortunately, for as much heart as the little boy has, the film lacks depth and feels empty.
Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner play a couple that can’t conceive. They want to adopt and at an evaluation they pin all of their hope on this story that they have to tell about Timothy. Now, on the night that they found out that their last-ditch effort to have a kid failed, they decided that before they gave up, they would write down everything that their kid would have been. They plant a box full of these notes, a storm comes and out pops Timothy.
Timothy is a cute kid, played very nicely by CJ Adams. Girls are going to love him. This kid is everything they wanted but he grows leaves on his legs, which means they not only suddenly have a kid they need to explain to their small town, but they have a secret to hide. This is where things start to deteriorate for me. Possible spoilers ahead.
What is this movie about? Is it about being a good parent? Is it a PSA for adopting a child? Is it about how a magical kid saves a small town? Recycling? Lot’s of little things happen in this movie that don’t add up to anything big. The bulk of the story rests on the kid, who sheds a leaf every time he exhibits a quality his parents had written down. Based on the fact that the parents now want to adopt, you can assume he dies, or disappears somehow when the leaves are gone. This knowledge so early in the film allows you to prepare and disconnect from the kid, so what should be a highly emotional ending falls flat. The whole movie seems to shy away from having any real impact on anybody, finding easy solutions to trivial amounts of conflict.
I could appreciate The parents struggle not to repeat the mistakes of their parents and making all new ones, but this is an entry point and the topic is never fully explored, because their could be no real consequences. If they make any big mistakes, their chances of adoption are gone, so everything was kept manageable within the story so that no one has to work too hard for anything.
I would have ditched the whole adoption angle. I suspect that the whole intent of the film was to promote adoption, or foster care, but it really hurt the story. It takes away any surprise element and fetters the intensity of what the potential stakes coud have been. By adding the evaluation scenario and narrating the “real story” they make the stakes about getting another kid and not about the life of Timothy Green, which the title promises us is odd.
The scenarios where Timothy Green acts out his destiny to be the world’s most awesome kid are pleasant to watch and even have some spiritual overtones in a surface scratchy way. He’s a very likeable character and it’s a shame that he wasn’t given more life, or purpose, or something that makes you feel anything for him. He’s treated by the story like some kind of robot, or tool to motivate the parents. I think if they dug deeper they could have found some through line in philosophy, or social commentary to provide a bit of substance.
The climax is a bit tedious considering the lack of investment this movie encourages. Heres how it ends. The town’s pencil factory, which Jim Green (Edgerton) works at is shut down, because of lumber laws or something; but not before Timothy inspires him and Cindy (Garner) to design and create a prototype of a pencil made out of leaves (Yeah, this is real). Of course, his boss takes credit, but Timothy calls him a liar and in order to prove to the townspeople he’s telling the truth, Timothy shows everyone his last leaf.So day saved, Timothy sheds his leaf and disappears, Jim and Cindy get a new kid, the end. C-
*Except one: In a scene where Jim and Cindy have an intruder in the house, they follow a trail to a closed room. Jim stands behind Cindy who does not hesitate to just open the door without caution. It bothered me all night.