Rating: PG (mild thematic elements, brief language)
Length: 105 minutes
Release Date: August 15, 2012
Directed by: Peter Hedges
Stars: 4 out of 5
“The Odd Life of Timothy Green” centers on a childless couple, Jim (Joel Edgerton) and Cindy Green (Jennifer Garner), who has just been told by their fertility specialist that all routes have been exhausted in their mission to conceive a child. They are somewhat despondent over the news but vow to adopt and create a family anyways.
That night at home, they decide to let go of what they thought their biological child would have been like by writing down all the attributes they dreamed the child would have. They place their slips of paper into a box and bury it in their garden in the hopes of moving on to the next chapter of their lives. A freakish rainstorm that only happens over their house occurs that night, and suddenly a 10-year-old boy shows up muddy and naked inside their home. After their initial shock, they decide to adopt him and name him Timothy.
Timothy (CJ Adams) is not like other kids, and this is not just because he seemingly grew out of a garden. He has very few social skills and doesn’t seem to be able to interact with other kids his own age very well. There is also the problem of these green stems that seem to shoot up out of his legs, which Jim and Cindy hide with high socks.
Since Jim and Cindy have never been parents before, they are bound to make some mistakes. They vow that they won’t make the same mistakes that their parents did, and they seem very sincere in that vow. This is especially true of Jim, whose father (David Morse) was never really there for him as a child. However, in a surprising twist, they make mistakes that might actually be worse than the ones their parents made.
Without realizing it, the two new parents morph into ultra-competitive parents who use their child to try and one-up others. This is especially true of Cindy, whose sister Brenda (Rosemarie DeWitt) is very competitive herself. Brenda’s kids are budding music whizzes, so naturally Cindy wants Timothy to be, as well. Unfortunately, a kid who came out of a garden isn’t likely to have very attuned musical skills. He loves his new parents, though, and gives it a try, which results in him banging on a drum in a way that gave most headaches.
Jim and Cindy get up and start to dance wildly, as if they are enjoying the cacophony. Normally, this would be a touching scene where the parents are simply trying to support their child, much like the talent scene in “Little Miss Sunshine.” The difference here is that the parents are dancing to save their own face, instead of that of their child. They are dancing for purely selfish reasons.
Other chaos ensues as Timothy tries in vain to conform to the exacting standards of his parents. These scenes of embarrassment and humiliation for poor Timothy might lead to the audience turning on Jim and Cindy, branding them unfit parents. Screenwriter Peter Hedges, who also directed the film, is careful to avoid this type of audience mutiny. He gives Jim and Cindy enough undertones to make it evident that they are just making mistakes, and not failing. They truly do have Timothy’s best interests at heart, they just need to step away from their parenting fantasy to see it.
Hedges has a lot of experience in this type of dysfunctional family drama, having written the scripts for “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” and “Pieces of April.” He sets the perfect tone for a family that is completely unconventional and flying by the seat of their pants as they learn what good parenting really is.
CJ Adams turns in an astute performance as Timothy, the mysterious boy with some really wonderful hidden talents. Equally charming is Odeya Rush as Joni, the only person at school who befriends Timothy. Though the performances by leads Edgerton and Garner are great, the two young kids pretty much steal the movie out from under them with their nuanced portrayals of school misfits who enjoy the fact that they are different.
Dianne Wiest, Common and M. Emmett Walsh all show up in small roles as well. Only Disney could assemble that kind of big-name acting talent for bit parts. Though their time on screen is minimal, it has maximum impact, in the same way that the heartwarming “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” will have an impact on viewers.