By Susan JAMES
A modest fable with a magical twist, Disney’s new release “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” is a charming story of the challenges of parenting. No explosions, no CGI, no chase scenes, but definitely some quirky secrets that thread through the plot.
Jim and Cindy Green, played by Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner, live in a small Georgia town dependent for its livelihood on the local pencil factory where Jim works. More than anything else, Jim and Cindy want to have a child. On the evening they finally admit to themselves that this is never going to happen, the couple shares a bottle of wine and Jim begins a game of let’s pretend. Each one writes down on a scrap of paper what their fantasy child would be like. Funny, smart, caring, musical but normal. No bionic boy for them. Then like children mailing a letter to Santa, they bury their requests in a wooden box in Cindy’s lovingly tended garden.
Cue middle of the night wind and rain storms with strange astrological occurrences. Is anyone surprised that Jim and Cindy wake the next morning to find a 10-year-old boy named Timothy covered in mud in their kitchen? Played with a wistful grace by C. J. Adams, Timothy is the child that Jim and Cindy always dreamed of, with one small exception. He has green leaves growing from his legs above his ankles. Part Peter Pan and part nature sprite, Timothy like Pollyanna before him proceeds by the very openness of his heart to undo the nasty relationship knots in the community around him.
Because this is a Disney film there is plenty of family feel goodness, but director Peter Hedges, who also wrote the screenplay, never lets things get too saccharine. Jim and Cindy are burdened with familiar problems: Jim’s father (David Morse) is a bully who never stood up for his son. Cindy works for a mean, uber-wealthy town tyrant (Dianne Wiest) and has a sister whose seemingly perfect life always upstages hers. The pencil factory is on the ropes and the couple struggles to make ends meet.
Hedges frames the movie with Jim and Cindy at an adoption agency explaining their story to the agency’s impatient head Evette Onat, played by Shohreh Aghdashloo. In the midst of all the fantastical elements, Aghdashloo brings a welcome sense of realism. Skeptical at first, she finds herself fascinated by Jim and Cindy’s story.
Wide-eyed at the world around him, Timothy’s otherworldliness attracts the attention of Joni, a 14-year-old student at his school, played with an otherworldliness of her own by Odeya Rush. The movie revolves around their friendship and the successes and mistakes Jim and Cindy make trying to negotiate the mysterious byways of parenting. When Timothy’s attached leaves begin to change color and fall off, things take a somber turn. But in the meantime, the boy from the garden has encouraged his parents to create a new, biologically sustainable pencil that will save both the factory and town. He has warmed cold hearts and taught a loving couple how to truly become parents.
The plot may be predictable, but C. J. Adams with his gentle sense of wonder keeps the sentiment in check.
See you at the movies!