Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Disney Oddity

When I first saw promotional material for The Odd Life of Timothy Green, I was still dating former "loyal sidekick" Anne. That was over a year ago - well before Todd and I met - and illustrates just how long parent company Disney has been pushing this feel-good family release. It seems like an odd decision to do so; in the time since, similar film We Bought a Zoo released its trailers, got into theaters in December, banked its profits and released on DVD. For such a title as Odd Life to promote itself a year in advance seems like either shoddy marketing or a failure in the making. In fact, after seeing that trailer for the first time, I didn't see a single follow-up until just this past spring, causing me to believe that the movie had been delayed due to negative feedback. But no, August 15'th was always meant to be the film's release date, and The Odd Life of Timothy Green, with midcard performers Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton at the forefront, finally hit theaters a couple of weeks ago. Worth the extensive wait? I suppose it depends how much saccharine you like in your coffee.

Parents without a clue.
When married couple Cindy (Garner) and Jim (Edgerton) Green discover that they cannot conceive a child, they are understandably crushed. Cindy desires that same proud feeling her sister expresses about her "gifted" children, while Jim desperately wants to be the attentive, loving father he never had. Spending every dime they had on medical treatments and examinations, they are at the end of their rope. Finally, in an attempt to move on, they take down all the ideas of what their perfect child would be, lock those written notes in a box, and bury it in the garden. That night, they are shocked to discover a young boy (CJ Adams) appear in their home, a boy who apparently dug himself out of the garden. Calling himself Timothy, the naive and earnest boy sets about changing the lives of the Greens and their friends and family, in many unexpected ways. But what nobody but Timothy knows is that he only has a limited amount of time on this Earth...

The "Family Talent Show" did not go as well as planned...
I admit that there were some notions of the trailers that had sparked my interest, from the magical appearance of Timothy to the leaves that are seen on his legs from the get-go. But beyond that, the idea that this movie could be anything beyond its "miraculous" lead character didn't seem possible, and director Peter Hedges doesn't do anything to prove me wrong. It's all Timothy, all the time, and between his parents' shock at everything he does and says to people alternating between thinking he's weird and genuinely liking him, his presence gets very tired VERY fast. It doesn't help that CJ Adams is just one in a long line of annoying kid actors whose earnestness and energy become a major liability the more the audience is exposed to them. And despite the fact that both Garner and Edgerton are quality talents, neither is at the top of their respective games. We've seen the pensive mother-type from Garner before, but she was so much better in Juno. And for Edgerton, going from dark, gritty roles in Animal Kingdom, The Thing and Warrior to a more family-friendly movie doesn't feel as genuine as he and I had hoped.

How does this end? He leaves her.
 This means that The Odd Life of Timothy Green must live or die by the strength of its supporting characters, a varied bunch limited by the cliched similarities inherent in small-town American towns. Rosemarie Dewitt (who has appeared in a lot this year), Dianne Wiest, M. Emmet Walsh, David Morse, Ron Livingston and Common play normal people in normal ways and don't really do anything special outside of being very talented, which is fine but not great. There are a few standouts, however. Playing Timothy's best friend, Odeya Rush makes a wonderful splash as the reserved, artistic Joni. And Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo carries the small role of a representative for an adoption firm that the Greens are in contact with. Both actresses put on great performances, but are sadly underused and could have done much more to liven up the story.

The whole thing is about as exciting as this screenshot
Because despite the talent of the people onscreen, it is the story that sinks Timothy Green. The plot feels incredibly thin, as Timothy's journey to impact lives over and over again and help Cindy and Jim overcome their parenting hiccups stops being charming after the first hour. What follows is boredom: lots and LOTS of boredom as you wait for something (Anything!) fun to happen. There's no way small children will be able to maintain their attention throughout this movie, which is weird since this IS supposed to be a family film. While it does keep the sugar factor going strong and wrap up things in a happy fashion, it doesn't make the boring interludes forgivable, nor does it manage to carry the script beyond the interesting idea that it once was.

"Hello, I must be going."
It's that lack of follow through that makes The Odd Life of Timothy Green one of this year's lesser films. It's not horrible, but much more needed to be done to make this a film a classic children's film, and it ends up in the lower half of 2012's mid-range pack. This is Disney playing it safe, while ParaNorman does a much better job entertaining kids in its own charmingly subversive way. Wholly uninteresting and not worth the ticket price, you can save Timothy Green for a final-option DVD rental.

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