The Odd Life of Timothy Green is an odd duck. Pollyanna as magical realism, except it's magic that doesn't really achieve or reveal anything the audience can believe in.
Cindy and Jim Green (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) have tried everything they can to have a baby, until finally, the doctor tells them that it is time to give up and move on. An aside: If you aren't able to watch without asking how a guide in a small town pencil museum and low-level manager at a pencil museum are able to afford tens of thousands of dollars in fertility treatments, this may be the first sign that it will be hard to get with the groove.
Anyway, they drown their sorrows in wine, and start writing out their wishes for what their child might have been. They then bury these wishes in the garden—the spot from which, later that night, sprouts a 12-year-old boy who calls himself Timothy (CJ Adams), and who calls them Mom and Dad.
It is a staple of movies in general, but magical realism specifically, that people are never nearly as freaked out by the impossible as you'd expect. So within minutes Cindy and Jim have accepted that apparently Timothy is meant for them, and soon introduce him to the family as a rapid adoption of some sort, and have him enrolled in school. The only acknowledgement of the oddity being that they make him always wear knee-high socks to hide the fact that he has leaves growing out of his calves.
Things progress to the somewhat predictable conclusion, only made interesting because it allows the movie to offer up a wildly implausible framing device where Cindy and Jim are narrating the movie to someone who should probably be put in jail for believing them.
Pollyanna really is an apt comparison, because Timothy immediately goes around supposedly making people's lives better with his kind-hearted naivety. But where Pollyanna taught Mrs. Snow and Mr. Pendergast how to enjoy life again and experience real change, Timothy seems to just make people a little bit better. Dianne Wiest is a witchy town-matriarch who, because of Timothy, has a moment of self-reflection before being mean some more. The already-happy man is made a little bit happier than before. The strange girl comfortable in her strangeness gets to be strange with Timothy.
There simply isn't much in the way of emotional payoff.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green is not a terrible movie; it just falls flat. There are several scenes played with a certain surreal acceptance, but it never quite held. Peter Hedges wrote a screenplay (along with Ahmet Zappa) that would have been better directed by Wes Anderson than Peter Hedges.
In the middle of summer's cacophany of comic book movies, there is something to be said for a quiet respite that the whole family can attend—but that's about all that can be said for this one.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a Walt Disney Pictures release.
Wide theatrical release Friday, August 17.
Directed by Peter Hedges
Starring: Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, CJ Adams, Odeya Rush, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Running time: 100 minutes
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and brief language
Alex's Rating: 5 out of 10