The Odd Life of Timothy Green, the new film from writer/director Peter Hedges, is a nice movie. It has its own brand of quirkiness (like being set in a town nicknamed “The Pencil Capital of the World”), plenty of charm (thanks in large part to the great lead performances and cute characters), and a quaint little message that ties everything up in a neat bow. It’s not ambitious, but it is sweet – and that has its positives and its negatives.
Cute as the movie is, the great performances by Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Garner and CJ Adams, who play Jim, Cindy and Timothy Green, respectively, are what sell the story. As a married couple who learn that they can’t have kids, then discover that they’ve managed to grow a little boy in the backyard, and then realize that they have to learn how to actually take care of him, there’s a great arc and a lot of range built into the characters of Jim and Cindy and Edgerton and Garner are brilliant. In addition to having excellent chemistry together – which was a must for these parts – they work great together through the shifting tones. It’s almost embarrassingly fun watching the parents and Timothy dancing around and singing “Low Rider” during an extended family music recital, and it’s harshly realistic when they are at home and fighting about their son’s behavior.
While Timothy is certainly an adorable kid, the movie never enters the mode where it’s risking giving the audience diabetic shock and instead shows quite a bit of restraint. The character is loaded with eccentricities and quirks – not to mention a bunch of leaves growing out of his legs – and Adams plays them up in a way so that the audience sees him both as a normal, odd kid as well as a strange pixie who grew out of the ground. In the same way that Edgerton and Garner are a great match on screen, Adams has great rapport with his older co-stars and together they make a pleasant little family unit.
It’s possibly a matter of not being fully engaged with the magical realism aspects of the plot – which are largely downplayed by Hedges – but the story has some narrative issues. The film uses a framing device that has Jim and Cindy meeting with a representative from an adoption agency and telling her the story of their experience with Timothy, but it’s hard to tell why the prospective parents aren’t thrown out of the office immediately for being completely out of their minds. This continues to late in the movie, as characters experience complete personality changes when it becomes convenient and others start to “know” information before it’s really possible for them to do so, and while you feel like you’re meant to just go along with it for the sake of the fairy tale, it all just feels too grounded in reality.
It’s hard to ignore the charm of The Odd Life of Timothy Green, but it’s also hard not to wonder what it could have been. The movie has such a strange concept to begin with that you’d think they’d be able to try and push the boundaries of weird, but the film largely plays it safe. It’s not great and it’s not bad; it’s just nice.