Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
August 2012

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

Ch-ch-ch-chia

'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 cast.

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.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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