Monday, August 20, 2012

Film Review: The Odd Life of Timothy Green

Forgive me for being a little bit autobiographical, but it may explain my review. My wife and I have wanted children since we first were married, but God has not gifted us in that we. We have been in the adoption process for 3 years and we feel like we are in limbo. All pain is relative and there are certain types of suffering which I cannot grasp because I have not experienced them. But there is a special kind of kind of ache from childlessness. Everything on the outside looks fine. But there is a gnawing emptiness in your heart digs deeper and deeper as the years go by. You feel sad, jealous, and guilty (over the jealousy). But above all you feel powerless.

And this is how the main characters begin the story of The Odd Life of Timothy Green. Cindy and Jim Green (played by Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) begin their tale with a doctor telling them that they cannot have children. They return to their small town caught up in their own grief, trying to move on. But before they do, they write out all of the things that they wanted for their child that they will never experience. They wanted him to be “Picasso with a pencil” and to be “Honest to a fault” and so on. They then put these notes in a box and bury it in their backyard That night, some Disney magic happens, and a young boy grows from the ground and enters their lives.

There is a lot of suspension of disbelief for the appearance of the mysterious child. That is one of the flaws of the movie. The other is that most of the other characters are one dimensional. There is Jim's distant father, the funny old uncle, the competitive sister, the old crone boss, the rich manager who is also the company owner's son, etc. They all serve a little story targets for odd Timothy to hit with his odd ways.

And Timothy is an odd one with leaves growing on his legs and he has a habit of standing Jesus-like with open arms in front of the sunlight at the most inappropriate moments. But Timothy's oddness shakes up the lives of everyone he meets. It is the classic story of the saintly innocent whose ways seem strange to us normal people, only to have his oddness bring out the extraordinariness of everyone he meets.

And while the script does have real deficiencies (including a creepy scene where he draws the old crone played by Diane Wiest), I could not help but fall for the movie. There are a few reasons for this.

First off all, even though most of the characters are flat, I thought the 3 leads were terrific. Garner walked us through the silent depths of her sadness until she showed the elation and terror of motherhood. Edgerton brings a strong earthiness to his role as the practical provider who tries to help his family any way he can. And the two of them also show us the uglier side of parenting, as they sometimes use the wonder of their son to show up those who did not support them in their lives. And CJ Adams is wonderful as Timothy, who plays him as loving and endearing, but always with a quiet secret sadness, which becomes understood the further the movie develops.

Second, the cinematography and music are great. Fall in the farmland is the stuff of pastoral poems, and you can see why with this film. It is beautifully shot and captures the simple majesty of a colorful country autumn. Director Peter Hedges, also of the under rated Dan in Real Life, brings a warm visual feel to the movie. And Geoff Zanelli's score is childlike and moving. It plays with you while hitting the underlying emotion.

But the most important for me was the personal connection I immediately made with the material. There are some movies that, even with their deficits, speak to you because of where you are in life. As a kid I went through my Monster Squad and Goonies phase. As a teen I implicitly understood Breakfast Club and Pump Up the Volume. As a young man I felt at home with the guys from Swingers and Beautiful Girls. And right now odd Tim Green's parents connect to me.

I understand that this may not be the reaction everyone has. And I get that the lack of sophistication in the supporting characters may detract from someone's enjoyment. But sometimes if an emotional chord strikes the perfect heart strings, we forgive what is lacking and love what is good.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green is not for everyone. But if you know the ache I spoke of, then this movie will fill you with a little joy and a lot of hope.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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