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The Odd Life of Timothy Green

THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN

2 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Peter Hedges

Cast: Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, CJ Adams, Odeya Rush, Rosemarie DeWitt, David Morse, Shohreh Aghdashloo, M. Emmet Walsh, Lois Smith, Dianne Wiest, Ron Livingston, Common

MPAA Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements and brief language)

Running Time: 1:48

Release Date: 8/15/12


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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 14, 2012

One can only inject so much realism into a fairy tale before the illusion crumbles.  The actual story of The Odd Life of Timothy Green knows exactly how far to go.  Its setting is the ideal of Americana—a small town where everyone knows each other's names, homes have plenty of acreage for a family to grow its own fresh vegetables, and the denizens come together to watch the school's soccer team (It's kind of like football in that everyone else in the world calls it that).  Everyone depends on the neighborhood pencil factory; after all, with a pencil, one character says, anything is possible.

Places like this undoubtedly exist, though perhaps not to the idyllic extent of Stanleyville, "the pencil capital of the world."  There's even a pencil museum in town; since it's not exactly a tourist or vacation spot, the fact that it manages to stay in business with primarily local customers is its own tale of extraordinary occurrences.

In this town are Cindy (Jennifer Garner) and Jim Green (Joel Edgerton), a happily married couple who learn that they are unable to conceive. Director Peter Hedges' screenplay curtails the obvious conflict by not assigning any blame to one character or the other; it is simply an unfortunate twist of fate. Cindy sobs in the nursery they had prepared, and Jim takes one last look inside as he shuts the door for what he believes to be forever.

Devastated by the news, they both decide it's best for them to move forward with their lives, but that's easier said than done. They purge their hopes and dreams for a child with a game—writing down the traits of their hypothetical child on slips of paper, closing them in a box, and burying it in Cindy's garden. Soon enough, the two are following dirt trails in their house until they stumble upon Timothy (CJ Adams), who has leaves growing out of his shins and calls them "Mom" and "Dad."

The couple relates all of this to a government bureaucrat (Shohreh Aghdashloo) from an adoption services agency after the fact. The framing device means a lot of unnecessary narration and an easy way for Cindy and Jim to reveal all of the lessons they've learned. It becomes a great burden, though, when those segments interrupt the story of the pair with Timothy. Every major event becomes an anticlimax as Hedges falls back on the storytelling tool as a crutch.

The sense of discovery for the family is genuinely sweet, especially as the new parents begin to learn that Timothy is exactly as they envisioned their imaginary child to be. He has a good sense of humor, which really tickles Cindy's uncle Bub (M. Emmet Walsh). He's a bit clumsy, which leads Jim's dad (David Morse) to be a bit skeptical. Cindy's sister Brenda (Rosemarie DeWitt) is the judgmental sort. She suggests that Timothy isn't a "real kid" because he's adopted. That's the story Cindy and Jim let everyone infer; if only she really knew. He might have some mental or medical issues about which they don't know.

Hedges subverts Cindy and Jim's characters to show a certain selfishness in regards to relationship with Timothy. Timothy is essentially an amalgamation of his creators' regrets over their own failed ambitions and personal issues. One of Jim's expectations when he's writing characteristics for the soon-to-be generated child is that he will—just once—score the winning goal at a soccer game.

It's a point of pride—something Jim was never able to do. The soccer games see Timothy sitting on the bench, fetching water for his coach (Common) and teammates, while his grandfather stands near the edge of the field, waiting for a chance to leave. Jim is replaying his own feelings of disappointing his father and disappointment with his father for never really showing him any support. Cindy, meanwhile, tries to top her sister, whose children are overachievers. Nothing is ever good enough for Brenda, so, after remembering that she and Jim said Timothy would "rock," Cindy uses her son's theoretical musical talents as a way to counter her sister's bragging. The resulting music recital is a cute undercutting of their expectations.

Timothy quickly experience milestones in his life, like his first experience with death. Most importantly, he falls in love with a girl named Joni (Odeya Rush), who keeps a birthmark hidden; she understands what it's like to be different. Timothy has a sunny outlook on everything, an endearing quality that Adams never allows to become mawkish.

As for the illusion of the inherently fanciful nature of the tale, the framing scenes become an even greater problem. It's a given that we will buy into the fantasy of The Odd Life of Timothy Green, but to imagine Aghdashloo's character suspending her disbelief when confronted with the story as reality is a stretch (The only sticking point she sees is when the couple says they created a new type of pencil; the boy emerging from nowhere is left unquestioned). It's one step too far on the realism scale, forcing us to confront how much the illusion would sound like a delusion to objective ears.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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