The Odd Life of Timothy Green
(2012, US, d. Peter Hedges)
I went into this movie wanting it to be good. Really good. For some reason, the marketing campaign got to me. I wanted to see this movie so badly. Coupled with the fact that I have a soft spot for Disney/child/sentimental/magical stories, I figured I’d enjoy this one.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green tells the story of Cindy and Jim Green (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton), who’ve just been given the news that they won’t be able to conceive a child. That night, in order to move on from their sadness, they write down all the characteristics their child would have had, if born (“honest to a fault”, “funny” etc), and bury it in a box in their garden. Cue magical night sequence (I really do love those by the way) and the next morning…a boy is their house. Their boy. Straight from the garden.
Director Peter Hedges crams every second of this movie with rousing sentiment, it becomes hard to believe any of it for longer than a few minutes. I’m not saying there weren’t problems with the script. There were. But these problems were vastly overshadowed by Hedges’ direction.
From the opening minutes, I just didn’t believe Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton as two parents who’ve gone through anything of signifance in their lives. I didn’t believe they were married. I didn’t believe they had any chemistry. I didn’t believe they knew each other one bit. The only thing I did believe was that they had memorized their lines very well and Hedges completely overlooked the fact that these scenes were supposed to be organic – be alive – rather than be a poorly staged version of what was in his head.
Garner and Edgerton are terrific actors. Seriously. But here, in The Odd Life, they’re stale, robotic, and their smiles seem forced. The same goes for the supporting characters – no one seems committed to their roles. When Dianne Wiest, Rosemarie Dewitt, Ron Livingston, and David Morse don’t seem like real people at all- you have to look elsewhere for the source of the problem. In fact, the only actor I didn’t have a problem with was the title character, played by CJ Adams. Adams brought a tangible sense of wonder, curiosity, and naiveté to the screen. If only the rest of the film were like that.
At the end of the day, what disappointed me most was how the story could have turned out. Despite a very quirky and promising premise, The Odd Life turns itself into a melodramatic lesson on parenting – filled with cliches (“It’s OK to be different”) every turn of the page. I actually wished I could have made it. Watching it, I was shaking my head. I would have done better. But enough of that.
This is all not to say the film won’t have its fans. I’m sure young parents will eat this stuff up. If I may though, I have to compliment John Toll’s cinematography. If there’s anything that kept me really invested, it was trying to figure out how he was lighting these scenes. They looked spectacular.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a misstep. Hedges clearly knows how to make a strong film. His actors do, too. For some reason or another, it doesn’t work out here.
They may have watered it too much.