Writer/Director Peter Hedges (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, About a Boy, Pieces of April, Dan in Real Life) has fashioned a fantasy about a childless couple named Cindy and Jim Green (played with sweet earnestness by Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) whose wish to be parents is granted one stormy night when a cheerful and insightful young lad named Timothy (a beautiful performance by C.J. Adams) literally pops out of the ground and pronounces them parents. And in the classic Disney vein of say, Pollyanna, this kid is going to make the community he’s in a better place during the short time we’re watching the film.
Cinematographer John Toll (who won Oscars for his work on Legends of the Fall and Braveheart) has fashioned a beautiful Indian Summer-hued portrait of Stanleyville, the setting for this story and the self-proclaimed “Pencil Capital of the World.” (Incidentally, while most of the film was made in Georgia, close-ups of pencil-making equipment were shot at the Musgrave pencil factory in Shelbyville, Tenn.) And assembled in front of Toll’s camera are several fine actors, including double-Oscar winner Dianne Wiest, veteran character actors M. Emmet Walsh and Lois Smith, Academy Award-nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo and the always reliable David Morse.
Yes, there are some fine people in front of and behind the lens. That doesn’t mean they get everything right, though. Too many of the characters – the helicopter-parenting tight-as-a-drum sister of Garner’s character played by Rosemarie DeWitt, Morse’s tough-without-the-love father/new grandfather, and Ron Livingston’s weasel-of-a-factory-boss among others – are so stereotypical they’re only bearable because good actors are playing them. One exception is the role of Timothy’s nature-loving friend Joni Jerome, who is written (and certainly played by Odeya Rush) as more than a cardboard cutout. Of course, like Timothy she’s not one of the adults, and Disney films have often made children far more interesting than the grown-ups.
There is also a heavy dose of clichés and we-better-spell-it-out references (the fact that the newly-sprouted son joins a family named Green is a prime example of the latter). And making clear from the first scene that Timothy won’t be around long by speaking of him in the past tense (most of the story is told in flashback) rather spoils and dilutes the ultimate impact of that plot point.
But The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a hopeful, optimistic tale that tugs enough heartstrings to make for a pleasant family film outing. Despite its flaws it’s still – other than animated features – what Disney moviemakers do best.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green is now playing in Nashville at multiple locations; visit the Regal Entertainment Group and Carmike Cinemas websites (www.regmovies.com and www.carmike.com) for locations and times. Rated PG for mild thematic elements and brief language, 100 min. Written and directed by Peter Hedges, based on a story by Ahmet Zappa. Starring Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, C.J. Adams, Odeya Rush, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Dianne Wiest, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ron Livingston, M. Emmet Walsh, Lois Smith, Lin-Manuel Miranda, David Morse and Common.
*Photos by Phil Bray courtesy Walt Disney Studios.