Wednesday, August 15, 2012

To Life! “The Odd Life of Timothy Green”

Film Review by Maggie Hames
The Odd Life of Timothy Green feels like a fable, a fabulous tale set in a storybook town. The lead characters, Cindy and Jim Green (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) even narrate the movie as a story told to an official at an adoption agency. Their town of Stanleyville feels magical, yet it’s peopled with recognizable and surprisingly real characters, considering its amazing plot points.

Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner
This movie stands for the miracle of life and love. And when it comes to the precious years we spend as parents while our children pass in and out of our sphere of responsibility, you may agree that the days are long but the years are fast. When we stop to contemplate it, it all goes by in a blink. Director Peter Hedges has created a metaphor for all of our children’s lives in Timothy Green: in the blink of an eye they remind us of what’s really important in this world.

The day Cindy and Jim are told to “stop trying” by their fertility doctor, they have a touching moment of mourning at home. Cindy wants to move on; Jim doesn’t want to give up. They allow themselves to dream about what their kid would be like: honest to a fault; artistic; musical. They bury these dreams on slips of paper in a box in their garden as a kind of catharsis. But that very night, the boy of their dreams appears in their bed, ten years old, covered in garden soil, and calling them “mom” and “dad.”

This is a hyper-real world: quaint in a metaphor-filled way. Stanleyville is the “World Capital of Pencils” and Jim Green works in the pencil factory; wife Cindy works in the Pencil Museum. It’s just this side of working in Santa’s workshop, but it’s surprisingly believable. This is the world where The Odd Life of Timothy Green can play out, can grow, if you’ll pardon the pun. Because Timothy Green is a real “cabbage-patch kid” who appears to have emerged from Cindy and Jim’s garden and they immediately understand the gift they have received. There’s a touch of old legend here, a bit of the story of Pinocchio mixed with the Japanese tale of the Peach Boy: the child bestowed on a worthy but childless couple by the universe itself.

There’s more than a little Juno here, especially with Jennifer Garner virtually reprising her role as a woman unable to have “a child of her own.” But here, Jennifer is center stage and she’s a marvel. She’s sweet, kind, wounded, disappointed but never down, and able to face everything life throws in her path. And she and Edgerton have great chemistry as a screen couple. I especially love this scene where Cindy and Jim walk Timothy to his first day of school. Cindy’s over-protective without seeming annoying. And Jim is the soul of patience:


Odeya Rush as Joni gives Timothy (CJ Adams) a lift.
I have to feel just a little sorry for any child actor who has to take on as complex a role as Timothy Green, but CJ Adams does a credible job, natural and believable, with a soulful face and a performance devoid of obvious cutesiness. He’s able to embody an infectious zest for life. He begs to attend the party of a boy who bullied him because it seems like it would be fun; and it is. He enthusiastically takes his spot as the water boy for his soccer team, even imitating the coach’s pep talk for the boys in a sincere style. Rapper Common is terrific as the soccer coach. Like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, this is a relatively small budget film with a cast a big-budget film would (and should) kill for, including Dianne Wiest as the matriarch of the Crudstaff family (of the pencil-making Crudstaff’s); Ron Livingston as petty tyrant Franklin Crudstaff; M. Emmett Walsh and the divine Lois Smith as Cindy’s sweet uncle and aunt; Rosemarie DeWitt as passive/aggressive sister Brenda; another wonderful junior performance from Odeya Rush as Joni; and David Morse as Jim’s dad known as “Big Jim” (in more ways than one; he casts a giant shadow across his son.).

If you’re like me, meaning an adoptive parent or someone who struggled to become a parent, you will find this film especially affecting. But I bet parents in general will be moved by the simple truths here. Hats off to Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton who will break your heart if you’re not careful. A great love can help us become the best version of ourselves. As Jim says, “With a pencil, all things are possible.” The same is true for love. We’re here to love and be loved. And then you’re done. But if you do it all the way, it’s enough.

Go to this movie with your spouse and bring your kids; this is a family film in every sense of the word. And it’s got resonance. It’s been invading my thoughts and dreams since I’ve seen it. It’s a small miracle.

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