‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green’ feels like it’s still at the drawing board

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The Odd Life of Timothy Green

Directed by Peter Hedges

Written by Peter Hedges and Hamet Zappa

U.S.A., 2012

Everyone has their favorite Disney film. Actually, honesty is always the best policy, and pegging little deeper into the opinions of movie fans that hold the famed studio  in high regard should reveal that most people have multiple favorites because s many if them are terrific and etched in the memories of film buffs. The Lion King, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Dumbo, The Little Mermaid. Those are but some of the many, many titles pronounced when the topic of favorite Disney films comes up. The common denominator is that they are all of the animated variety. Who cites their favorite as Tron, Prince of Persia, Escape from Witch Mountain or The Rocketeer? It seems as though Disney’s live action movies are doomed To be second rate when standing next to their animated counterparts and even  when compared to a lot of other live action films. Ther latest project,  The Odd Life of Timothy Green essentially suffers the same fate as countless others.

Jim (Joel Edgerton) and Cindy Green (Jennifer Gardner) are a good looking, well meaning and hard working family in a town whose primary economic lifeline is the pencil producing industry. Jim labours away in the factory amongst the cacophony of machinery whilst his lovely wife provides guests of the company’s founding father’s home guided tours. As much as they may claim to have everything they need, one element is lacking: a child. The film does not provide any explicit information, but it is strongly inferred that Cindy is incapable of pregnancy. One night, as they binge on some wine, the couple distracts itself from the pain of reality by engaging themselves in the imaginary, as they write down on bite sized pieces of papers the many qualities they would love for their kid to possess were they to have one. They compile the notes into a box and bury it in the yard Later that same night, as Jim and Cindy have gone to bed, an unexpected storm erupts, a storm carrying with it some old fashioned Disney magic, for out of the ground sprouts a young boy, Timothy (CJ Adams). Jim and Cindy are at first alarmed and confused, but perplexity turns to joy and acceptance once they understand just what has happened. It is time for mommy and daddy to get responsible.

 

‘It simply wants to do too much, desperately desiring for multiple character-driven subplots to be resolved in emotionally fulfilling ways with far, far too little screen time.’

Peter Hedges’ The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a film at which can be aimed a familiar criticism which proves to be part of the foundation of the many issues which plague the picture. To be blunt, it wants its cake and to eat it too. It tries to be a coming of age story, seeing as how Timothy, born immediately into the age of 10, approximately, merely out of the wishful thinking of his ‘parents’, must understand how the world around him operates, from school life, love to being the one thing Cindy and Jim love and care for most. On the flip, the film cannot really be a coming of age tale because of the nature of what Timothy is. Without revealing too many of the major plot points away, there can never be a full character arc for Timothy because of where he ends up, yet the film halfheartedly makes such attempts anyways. It also never feels enough like a coming of age story because just as much if not more screen time is allocated to exploring the characters of Jim and Cindy. The life of the Greens as depicted in the film is odd indeed, but the title has it all wrong. This is really the story of Jim and Cindy, yet their emotional arc hinges, logically, on who Timothy is and what he does, but because that never feels earned, it becomes difficult to feel as though anything the parents live through earns a satisfactory payoff. By being so noncommittal to either side (which should function as a whole, first and foremost), the movie never fully comes together.

Wanting its cake and to it eat too, for all intents and purposes, exposes the film’s greatest flaw. It simply wants to do too much, desperately desiring for multiple character-driven subplots to be resolved in emotionally fulfilling ways with far, far too little screen time. On the other hand, one might question the pertinence of have a Timothy Green film last 3 hours, yet for the aforementioned reason, it virtually feels like it might be warranted. The picture breezes through countless story threads which director Peter Hedges honestly tries to make work as best he can, but he is not, sadly, up to the task. This film either needed to be very long, or trimmed down to the point where its emotional core stemmed from only a select few story-lines. They way they are currently presented, there little chance anything is fleshed out. The examples of such fleeting storytelling abound. One particular example is when Timothy visits his uncle Bob (M. Emmet Walsh, utterly wasted), terminally ill at the hospital. This is a character the audience has met only once for a grand total of two minutes, although far be it for that to make the movie believe it cannot try to pry some reaction out of the audience from this deathbed scene. From a script standpoint, the framing device, wherein Jim and Cindy must convey to representatives of an adoption agency why they are fit to accept a child into their home, is to be partially blamed. They speak about Timothy in the past tense, recounting essentially everything they did, and as such things are forced to move along quickly.

The ultimate tragedy of all this unfortunate incoherence is that the titular boy, while not remaining a mystery exactly, never succeeds at deserving any greater reaction out of the viewer than curiosity. It seems highly doubtful that all Disney had in mind was to arouse mere curiosity out of movie goers. Surely Timothy is supposed to elicit some of those good old fashioned emotions people enjoy experiencing at the movies when stories are well told. One keeps hoping that he will feel fleshed out at some point, but the film ends and such a point has never been met. The script treats Timothy like a thing, an object to be studied by putting it through a series of little adventures just so the viewer can discover what will result. First, this is not character building, this is merely ‘having things happen to a boy’ and, second, nothing memorable at all results from any of these adventures. Throughout the entire film, a distance between Timothy and the audience is held, one assumes unintentionally. It becomes especially odd when the script displays silly inconsistencies, such as the fact that among the qualities Jim and Cindy wished upon their boy was pure honest, or honesty to a fault as they themselves describe it. Somehow, when called upon to play a piece of music in front of a crowd of people at a preppy gathering, he merely goes along with despite not knowing the first thing about music. No protests, not funnier, cleverer ways of introducing him to the world of music.

 

‘The ultimate tragedy of all this unfortunate incoherence is that the titular boy, while not remaining a mystery exactly, never succeeds at deserving any greater reaction out of the viewer than curiosity.’

Jennifer Gardner and Joel Edgerton both do what they can with the material they have been awarded, although ‘awarded’ is a bit of a stretch. As for the rest of the cast, there is not a soul who brings anything of note to the table. Whether this is a function of the poor script or the actors just having being in a bad mood in anyone’s guess, although it feels safe to accuse the text first and foremost. David Morse, who plays Jim’s father (Timothy’s grandfather) looks to be board out of his mind, not to mention playing but one of several characters erroneously stuffed into the story for yet another subplot. Rosemarie Dewitt, one of the classier actresses working today, is reduced to being Cindy’s obnoxious sister. A caricature, more like it. And then there is Common as a soccer kids soccer coach. He-… there-…if-…what is there to say about that, honestly?

The entire experience makes one wonder if the project is still not at the pre-production stage, when ideas are tossed around between screenwriters, directors and studio heads. This is does not feel like a complete movie, but rather the rough cut. Are scenes missing? Are there too many scenes? Who knows. No one would question that the potential was there. Credit to the people or person who came up with the concept. It is a good one. The Odd Life of Timothy Green is like the little film that could, only it does not.

-Edgar Chaput

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