Well, it’s certainly odd.
You could have probably guessed that from the marketing campaign, of course. The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a sexless (thank god) Weird Science knockoff for the family milieu, in which wannabe parents Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner write down all the traits their ideal offspring would have, bury their prospective child in the garden (don’t think about that too hard), and wake up to find their own little ragamuffin who's practically perfect in every possible way. He also has leaves growing on his legs, just in case you didn’t get that he was magical.
But the weirdest part of The Odd Life of Timothy Green is that that’s not the weird part. The strangest part isn’t even that the story was concocted by Ahmet Zappa. No, the bizarre stepping stone that I just can’t seem to conquer is that Peter Hedges’ film plays like a family movie but has seemingly no appeal to little kids. There’s nothing inappropriate for them to see, it’s just that Timothy Green clearly tells an innocent fairy tale exclusively for anxiety-driven grown ups. It’s a story for childless adults made and marketed for the children those adults don’t even have yet. I suppose it’s a bold choice, but I wonder if there’s any chance that the real target audience will ever find out this movie even exists.
Young C.J. Adams is a charismatic charmer in the title role, but he has no story to speak of, and nothing to learn by the movie’s end. Timothy Green is the ideal child, good natured and talented and, most importantly, impossible to screw up. Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton are fantastic as two decent people who suddenly have to deal with every parental anxiety at once, and who make constant mistakes in Timothy’s upbringing that they feel appropriately guilty for. They’re paranoid about his friends, they overcompensate for their parents' mistakes, and they discourage Timothy from revealing his physical eccentricities to prevent bullying from his peers. But instead of transforming their progeny into a realistic ball of paralyzing nerves, Timothy excels in every way and teaches his parents more valuable lessons than vice-versa.
Who wouldn’t want a child like this, one who only depends on his parents for the most basic of needs? It’s wish fulfillment for every adult who has even idly considered having children. But what message does it send to real kids? Most family pictures offer their young audience members a surrogate patriarch or matriarch (or at least a talking animal of some kind) who enriches their lives vicariously through the youthful heroes of the film. Timothy Green has no such figure in his life. His own perfection is what drives the story, switching the entire family film dynamic around by giving actual children an impossible standard to live up to. The Odd Life of Timothy Green isn’t so much a movie as it is a perfect older brother who makes your parents look at you funny. It’s not unreasonable to expect a father or two in the audience for this film to glance sidelong at their own kids and ask themselves, “Why can’t they be more like Timothy Green?”
I give The Odd Life of Timothy Green credit for realizing on otherwise unexplored fantasy scenario, in which the deep-seated and genuine concerns of neurotic adults are placated through innocent wish fulfillment. Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton are masterful and lovable as the heroes living through that strange situation, and they perfectly capture the pain and complexity of wanting the best for your offspring but second-guessing yourself to death about it. But watching the film, which I actually kind of recommend for adults (specifically not children), you’ll be confused by Peter Hedges’ treatment of the material as typical Disney kiddie fluff. I guess The Odd Life of Timothy Green isn’t so much “odd” as it is deeply confused as to who its real audience is, but if you’re in that audience your heart will be warmed even though real-life children will never live up to your standards again.
Photo Credits: Phil Bray