Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Over thinking the darkness in The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012) (Spoilers)

This is going to be a two part review. The first part is going to be a brief non-spoiler filled review and the second part is going to be a detailed discussion of the Odd Life… including a few things that maybe considered spoilers. If you don’t want to know simply read the first part , if you want to know more read the whole thing.


PART1- Non-spoiler review

The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a messy, wildly uneven film about a childless couple who wants to adopt a kid. While mourning the inability to have a child they talk about what might have been and place all the things they hoped for their kid into a box and bury it in the backyard. That night a miraculous rainstorm comes and timothy crawls out of the ground and brings love and joy to his new parents.

It’s a cliché ridden film that has several great moments (mostly the relationship between Timothy and Joni) but strives to be so gosh darn good for you and family friendly it never reaches the heights it aims for more than a minute or two. While not a bad film I can’t in good conscious suggest seeing this on a big screen.

Okay, that’s the non-spoiler review if you don’t want to know about what happens in greater detail stop there.

At this point I’m going to talk about the film in greater detail.

PART2-Spoiler filled review

Told in flashback Timothy Green tells the story of a childless couple in a dying town that are being interviewed about their application for adoption. They then tell the story about Timothy, the young boy who magically sprang to life from their hopes and dreams which they buried in the backyard one night. Timothy has leaves on his legs, which makes him a potential outcast. As the couple attempts to be good parents Timothy proves to be everything that they had hoped, but as time goes on and the seasons change Timothy begins to lose the leaves, a fact he knows spells his end. It’s a fact he hides from his parents.

Before I get to the main point I want to discuss I want to talk about the film as a whole.

It’s a mess.

Possessing moments of great power the film is undercut by a structure that turns it all into cliché. The first half hour is a painful by the number set up to the arrival of Timothy. It's painfully cute in a bad sitcom sort of way.  After that the film bumps and grind through a series of half done, kind of connected scenes that hint at a greater story not being told and “star” cameos that seem to have been chopped out from a longer better film.

Who put this film together anyway? Time gallops past us.  There is no sense about how much time really passes since while we get a sense of  time passing through school, soccer games, ect, there no outward change, its always fall. Characters, outside of the three leads are reduced down to bullet points.Who are these characters that come and go? What are their lives like beyond the shorthand? As I said the film hints at something greater but it's all reduced down.

Also troubling is that the film's attitude about parents and parenting is painfully saccharine with Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton, Tims parents being damn near perfect until the fight before Tim’s "leaving". They are near perfect to start so what did they have to learn about being good parents by having Timothy? Its a point that upsets the film since it runs counter to the films premise. Perhaps the thing that they have to learn is not to be so whiny. The Greens major fault is that they are whiny couple who mouth 5th rate lines about how their parents/families are terrible. It isn't natural and seems to be there only because the film was under strict time limits so they had to spoon feed the audience pabulum.

Sounds like I really hate the film doesn’t it?

Well I don’t, I hate the crap that gets in the way of the good stuff.

While Timothy is a bit too erudite, I loved some of his exchanges the adults particularly with Uncle Bub, and Diane Weist.
I also love Timothy's love interest, Joni. She maybe 11 or 12 but If she were real and more than a bit older she’d be the one for me. Goddamn I like her attitude. She is the wounded outsider who opens herself up to another outsider. Actually I love every one of the scenes between Joni and Timothy. The largely wordless sequences nail what young love can be. I kept wanting to scream, Yes Yes That’s it. There is something about how the two fit together that is so magical and perfect that I wish the whole film about them. As much as I dislike or am annoyed by large portions of the film, I love the sequences between the friends. I love the chemistry between Odeya Rush as Joni and CJ Adams as Timothy. Someone needs to find a script on the order of these sequences and pair them again but for a whole film.

Yes, these fleeting sequences are that good and they singlehandedly lift an otherwise sadly mediocre film up out of the muck.

And now on to my pet peeve with the film-

Try as they may to hide it this film is essentially a Disney death film. No it is, you have a kid who springs from the ground with green leaves on his legs that change color and fall off like a trees. Its the life cycle of a plant.

Yes to a large degree I’m over stating it, but despite the fact that the filmmakers wuss out, the film is really about the short life and eventual death of a magical child. We never see him die, he runs off in a rain storm and goes back to the ground, but pretty much this is a film about the preciousness of life and how we all only have a short time, a fact foreshadowed by the earlier death of Uncle Bub. And we know at the start that he's going to go because the whole film is the story about how Timothy changed his parents.

I’m not picking on the fact that Timothy dies, rather I’m picking on how the film handles it. It does so in the least offensive way possible. It does so in a typical Disney way which completely under cuts a great deal of emotion. Why do they speed it up and cut it down? Because they don’t want to freak out the parents in the heartland of America. They did it so no one would have to explain death to their children. Timothy just went back to where he came from…he didn’t die, not overtly.

Watching the film, knowing how it all was going to end, I kept wondering how they were going to handle it. I suspected it wasn’t going to be all that well since the film breezed through the story as if it was a highlight reel with points punched home by the declarative statements. I knew they were going to breeze through it, they wouldn’t deal with it in any meaningful way because they hadn’t really dealt with anything meaningful, other than Joni.

The leaving of Timothy is more or less Tim saying its time, then a clap of thunder as the lights go out and Tim is gone…with the previously smashed box back in the ground with a note from Timothy inside. It's so fast as if the death, as if all death (think of Uncle Bub) has no weight, no bearing on anyones lives. No one mourns, they are simply made better by it.

It’s inoffensive, and while it has some emotion, one can’t help how this would have been handled by a studio other than Disney. How would have this been if say Guillermo del Toro had turned this into a fable along along the lines of Pan’s Labyrinth? I can only imagine how great this could have been had someone been allowed to actually show effect of the loss.

Yes, I know this is a magical realistic film for kids, not a serious film  but I had hoped for more. I felt cheated, and I knew I was going to be cheated and I still felt it.

What's worse is the actual ending of the is a feel good moment, and you know its going to be, I mean its a fricking Disney film, and yet it still feels contrived and manufactured.

…actually the film leaves so many questions unanswered, two in particular:

1.How did they explain the disappearance of Timothy? I mean he’s here and then he’s not. How do explain his disappearance to the town?

2.What sort of deranged people are the adoption people that they would actually give the Greens a new kid after they told this whopper of a story? I mean seriously, it's one hell of a story.

When the film ended I realized what I want to see is either a remake or a sequel done by someone like John Carpenter or some great horror director.  In a remake Timothy would be some sort of evil being that takes over the lives of the happy couple . The sequel would have Lily, the daughter that Garner and Edgerton adopt, finding out what really happened to Timothy at the hands of the evil couple who took in a missing child and disposed of him in the backyard.

Of course it' unlikely to ever happen, partly because the film won’t make enough money, and secondly because Disney isn’t into turning their franchise into real grim Grimm’s fairy tales.

This film should have and could have been better.

It’s a film that should have been great instead of just having a couple of great parts.

If you’re interested give it a try but wait for cable or Netflix


  1. Two questions:
    1) Does Jennifer Garner cry when Timothy "dies?"
    2) Does anyone else (other ancillary characters) die during the movie?

    I'm very concerned with the portrayal of death and want to know before I take my 6 kids to the theatre.

    Mom Marge

  2. In answer to your questions

    1Garner does cry a little, but it's over so fast that it doesn't amount to much. The lack of emotion is kind of what bothers me it's so fast, its as if it doesn't matter.
    2. Uncle Bub dies kind of off screen knd of on screen in a hospital scene

  3. Great "no holds barred" look at this new movie! I jumped full the review because i honestly have no intention of seeing it, after seeing trailers which suggested many of the concerns you brought up. But for the good points you mention, i will consider checking it out some time down the line.

    You brought up something i fee is important, though: the dealing with death (or lack of) in a serious, and maybe even a little troubling way in movies that could be aimed at kids coming of age. Made me realize, being a kid through the 80s, much of my feelings, worries, understandings of life passing was probably developed through watching movies. BIG, major movies Where is that going/has it going?

    Now you see movies that skirt the issue altogether and just make everything a non offensive fantasy, and at the same time, probably even scarier, more and more little kids being dragged by parents to completely inappropriate movies with over the top body counts. Makes you think...