Magic is in the air in more ways than one in the new Disney offering, The Odd Life of Timothy Green
. This film presents the kind of fantasy that has appeal for both children and adults. Children will relate to the “it’s okay to be different” anti-bullying theme, while adults will find plenty of fodder for thought about the effects of parenting. Even if you’re not a parent yourself, you had parents, and both aspects are explored in the film.
Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton, as childless couple Cindy and Jim Green, give the film its center and strength by turning in extremely appealing performances. It’s not an easy job to take subject matter so dangerously heartwarming and give it depth. Basically, after learning that every medical approach to have a child has been exhausted, they reluctantly agree to “move on”. After a few glasses of good red wine, they write down all the qualities they’d want their child to have, place the papers in a box, and bury it in their garden. After a fierce thunderstorm in the middle of the night, a 10-year-old boy appears in their bedroom, covered with dirt and leaves. At first, they think he’s a runaway, but as soon as he gets cleaned up, and they discover that the leaves on his lower legs don’t come off, he calls them mom and dad with such authority that they have no choice but to believe him. He simply tells them that he “came from the garden”. Yes, it may seem a little far-fetched that the Greens would so readily accept this, but it also seems perfectly believable in the hands of Garner and Edgerton. Actually, a few more explanations seem pretty far-fetched, and they’re just kind of skipped over or ignored, which is my one complaint about the film.
The story unfolds in flashback as the Greens try to explain to the State Adoption Board why they would make good parents. Their explanation consists of Timothy’s odd story, hence the title The Odd Life of Timothy Green. The story takes place in fictional Stanleyville, the “pencil capital of the world”. Most folks in town work in the pencil factory owned and operated by the richest family in town, the Crudstaffs. James Rebhorn plays Joseph Crudstaff, the patriarch of the family, and Ron Livingston portrays Franklin Crudstaff, the son who runs the factory. In fact, Cindy Green even works for the family as a guide in the museum made from the old family homestead. Her boss is the sour-faced matriarch, Bernice Crudstaff, perfectly played by Dianne Wiest. Times are hard in the pencil business, and the townsfolk are facing massive lay-offs. Jim Green, a supervisor in the factory takes this news particularly hard.
Into this depressed town, and into this grieving couples’ lives, comes Timothy. The rest of the story unfolds as Timothy touches, and changes, many lives in Stanleyville. The firmly-attached leaves on Timothy’s legs, carefully covered with socks, correspond to the traits the Greens buried in their garden. They don’t make that connection, but we, the audience, do as Timothy affects many of the townspeople in positive ways. He’s befriended by a mysterious, lonely girl -- Joni (Odeya Rush) – who’s also beautiful, but different in her own way. They create a little magic of their own, and their relationship, so charming and sympathetic, provides a catalyst for several characters, most importantly for Cindy. Timothy also touches the lives of Cindy’s beloved aunt and uncle, Bub (M. Emmet Walsh) and Mel (Lois Smith). It’s a bit predictable that he’ll somehow win over the forbidding Ms. Crudstaff, but as with all his foreordained traits, things don’t work out as you might expect.
The thing about leaves, though, as with all growing things, is that they have their season. They fall from the trees and blow away, but with that little death comes the promise of rebirth in the spring. Does this apply to Timothy? Yes, but not in the way you might expect. It’s not a direct rebirth, exactly, but it is a new beginning for the Greens. As Timothy himself says just before the resolution of his story, “That’s the way things are supposed to be.” This is the thematic strength of this film. It’s about regret and redemption, despair and joy, and the transformations that are possible in people’s lives. On a deeper level, Timothy is a symbol of life-giving transformation. Kids, however, won’t care about that. They’ll just like the entertaining characters and simpler plotline.
The setting is compiled from a number of locations in Georgia and Asheville, North Carolina -- including the Biltmore Estate. The visual beauty of these locations is greatly enhanced by the sumptuous cinematography of the film. In fact, the idealized beauty of the place makes a little bit of magic seem entirely possible. I left the theater smiling.