'The Odd Life of Timothy Green' relies on easy formulas and one-dimensional adversaries
The Odd Life of Timothy Green Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Peter Hedges
Screenplay: Peter Hedges
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Garner, CJ Adams, Odeya Rush, Rosemarie DeWitt, David
Morse, Ron Livingston, Dianne Wiest, Common, M. Emmet Walsh and Shohreh Aghdashloo
Rated PG / 1 hour, 44 minutes
Opened August 15, 2012
(out of four)
Some movies require a villain. Others may even have a couple. And then there's The Odd Life of
Timothy Green, which decided to just say screw it, let's make everybody a villain.
This makes for a remarkably efficient yet undeniably cheap formula, which constructs
supporting characters as nothing more than devious obstacles to the Green family's ultimate
happiness. All Jim and Cindy (Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner) want is the perfect life for
their new son - who miraculously grows out of the family's garden and into their lives one night
- only everyone keeps conspiring against them. Or rather, writer/director Peter Hedges is
conspiring against them by concocting a parade of one-note antagonists out of the supporting
The dad's boss (Ron Livingston) at the factory, an entitled brat who treats his employees with
utter disregard and who encourages his sons to bully poor Timothy Green (CJ Adams).
The mom's boss (Dianne Wiest), a heinous ice queen who encourages Mom to be honest with
her one moment and then fires her the next.
The soccer coach (Common), who begrudgingly accepts Timothy on his team only to turn him
into a glorified waterboy/mascot, and even refuses to put him in the game when a player gets
injured and Timothy is the only reserve left.
The mom's repugnant sister (Rosemarie DeWitt), whose effusive pride in her own children and
subsequent condescension toward her new nephew reaches a fever pitch when she brazenly
attempts to humiliate Timothy - as well as her own sister and brother-in-law - at a makeshift
home recital in front of the entire extended family.
Oh, and of course there's the disinterested, disapproving grandpa (David Morse) who keeps on
showing up for family functions just so he can show his disinterest and disapproval, sneer, shake
his head and walk away.
I'm always bothered by the Manufactured Villain archetype, but in this case we get, by my
count, five for the price of one. It speaks to the film's laziness that it can't come up with any
other device. It's safe to say there wouldn't be much of a movie at all if not for all those villains,
and the wholly artificial way they keep causing wholly artificial problems.
I know what you're thinking - there's probably a
climactic scene with everybody in the entire town present and accounted for, in which a couple
of speeches warm everyone's heart, solve every problem and save the entire town all at once,
right? Well, I'll never tell. Those are your suppositions, so I'll just keep my trap shut.
Rest assured, the film deals with each resulting dilemma with that kind of simplemindedness.
There is one scene that's such a catastrophe of logistics, intelligence and perhaps even space-time, it completely exterminates any chance this particular subplot may have had of succeeding.
The conceit of this sequence - which takes place at a kids' soccer game - I'm fine with. But just
watch the scene. Watch the soccer game scene step by step, edit by edit, all the way to its
conclusion, and tell me you are not dumbfounded by the graceless idiocy of it all. Timothy
Green is only a mediocre film, no worse than that, but that individual scene ranks up there
among the most nonsensical I've ever seen.
This leads to a similarly nonsensical argument between the two parents - an argument that, in
retrospect, should have been treated like comedy. In fact, the mishandling of the film's tone is
constant. When the story is gravitating toward the surreal, Hedges yanks on the reins and pulls it
back toward basic realism. When ideas are noticeably funny, the movie practically forces itself
to settle down and slip back into casual drama.
I like weird ideas. I'm always excited to see any movie with an usual setup - or even a hint of
one - just because I'm interested to see what it'll do with it. More often than not (and it's
certainly true in this case), the filmmakers never quite get a handle on it, usually defaulting to
normalcy or "realism," failing to give themselves over to the stories' inherent strangeness.
In the case of Timothy Green, Hedges uses his fantastical premise as a springboard for little more
than a simplistic family drama. With the kind of magic the film is built on, you'd think it could
have done so much more. It has its heart in the right place, but its brain nowhere near it.