Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Review: "The Odd Life of Timothy Green"
Bad movies are less pleasant to watch than mediocre ones, but it’s a lot more fun to review a terrible film than one that you were totally indifferent to.
With a stinker, you just hone in on what you hated. Movies like “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” sort of lie there, inert. It’s like the difference between complaining about a food you detest and trying to describe eating something that is completely tasteless.
I had absolutely no emotional connection to “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” -- and that’s not a good spot for a touchy-feely modern fable to be in.
The tale of a childless couple who literally dream up their ideal kid, this is supposed to be one of those laughing-through-the-tears deals where the audience walks out feeling wistful and, most of all, moved. I’m all up for a good mushy movie, but this one is softer in the head than the heart.
Writer/director Peter Hedges has made some quality films -- “About a Boy,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “Pieces of April” – but loses his way here with some often lazy storytelling. The screenplay is like a Cliff’s Notes version of a real one, skimming over important events or exchanges as if it’s describing what happens rather than actually showing it.
This movie doesn’t earn its moments.
Often, the film feels like it’s going over a checklist. That’s perhaps inevitable, since Cindy and Jim Green (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) write down the qualities of their ideal child and put them into a box they bury in their garden. One magical storm later, Timothy appears, covered in mud and 10 years old, and he starts marking off all the moments of the life his parents have written for him.
What’s really odd is that no one, from the school principle to the Greens’ family members, questions the sudden arrival of Timothy. Things move along so hurriedly that 45 minutes into the film, Timothy has already experienced birth, bullying, true love and a death in the family.
The person who perishes is played by a veteran character actor, and it’s a cheap moment -- it feels like he was cast just so he could die.
I liked CJ Adams as Timothy. He has a frank, intelligent way of looking at the other characters, as if daring them to prevaricate or dissemble. Timothy was born with a bunch of bright green leaves growing around his ankles, so he has to keep his socks pulled up to prevent the discovery of his Big Secret.
Not surprisingly, it’s a girl who does. Joni (Odeya Rush) is several years older than Timothy and a loner, cruising around on her bike near the soccer games attended by seemingly everyone in the small town of Stanleyville, “The Pencil Capital of the World.”
Like the other relationships in the movie, their connection is more a marker for a deep bond than the actual depiction of one. We see them hanging around together, going off into the woods to do what not, and we’re supposed to assume something meaningful has passed between them.
Certainly the adults are not any more fun to hang around. Hedges has constructed a sprawling cast of grown-ups who all behave in petty and juvenile ways. Cindy’s sister loves to rub her perfect trio of children in the Green’s faces. Jim makes Timothy join the soccer team because his own dad (David Morse) never came to his games when he was a kid.
The soccer coach (Common), recognizing how terrible Timothy is at sports, makes him the water boy and, when forced by circumstance to put him in the big game, instructs him not to move.
There’s a whole distracting subplot of how the Stanleyville pencil factor is in danger of going under, due to the tired leadership of the Crudstaffs, the town royalty (including Ron Livingston and Diane Wiest).
Better to erase the whole thing.
The final fate of Timothy is never in doubt. The framing story has the Greens talking to some adoption officials, where they use the story of their time with Timothy as evidence of their earnest qualification to be parents. So we know from the outset he’s just some kind of enchanted practice child.
Perhaps that’s why this movie feels like nothing is at stake.
1.5 stars out of four