People fear sweetness in movies more than sugar in their diets. Folks may think nothing of a lifelong march in lockstep with sucrose and an old age of checking their blood sugar five times a day. But the same people cringe at the idea of sitting in a dark theater with strangers and letting their emotions flow out to meet a story that gets to the heart. Chick flicks? Forget it. I’m talking about a real heart wrencher, not traveling pants or standing in line to exhale.
And it’s a shame, because every so often comes a story with such simple and effective appeal that to obey movie theater decorum is a massive self-cheat. The latest is The Odd Life of Timothy Green, the recent Disney release whose sweetness isn’t anything like an over-glazed donut. If you relax and let this picture do its work, you can almost smell the hint of woodsmoke and wistfulness in the breeze that blows through the autumn landscape where it was shot.
Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton are a young couple dealing with the news that they will be unable to have children. Their grieving process includes a wine-soaked evening in which they jot the qualities of their dream child on slips of pocket notebook paper, then bury the notes in a box in the garden. That night, a thunderstorm brings forth…a 10-year-old boy, who sneaks upstairs and waits patiently in the spare bedroom to be found.
What? It’s Disney, remember?
Of course, Timothy (he comes prenamed, and confidently introduces himself) is no ordinary boy, and I won’t deprive you of the joy of discovering how he is different. A grin, patience, and the inability to be offended are enough tools for young Green to knit little veils of happiness wherever he goes, even if some people keep trying to brush them away.
In the process of giving of himself, Timothy gives more than the people around him know, which leads the picture to its bittersweet end. But before that, we get lightly acted but convincing comments on the touchstones every parent will recognize. When we stop piloting the helicopter long enough to think it over, we’re usually too hard on ourselves, and sometimes the kid gets lost in the shuffle of thoughts. Nothing leads to imperfection like efforts to be perfect.
Continuity experts may not like how casually the supernatural works in Timothy Green. But the facile script can be forgiven when you concentrate on the movie’s center, the young actor CJ Adams in the title role. Full disclosure: he is the son of a friend of mine, a man I particularly admire. But no bias can overstate the skill with which Adams handled a role that could have easily gone mawkish, but never did. An engaging matter-of-factness informs his performance, even when we realize Timothy has a sad secret to keep. And if you need further proof that CJ has abundant acting chops at such a young age, look at the way he works with esteemed veteran Dianne Wiest, who plays a particularly intimidating role. There’s not a hint of hesitation as Adams moves naturally through an emotionally complex scene with Wiest. It’s breathtaking stuff.
Director Peter Hedges oversaw shooting in various gorgeous locations in the southeastern U.S. The result was a comforting palette of colors and movement that didn’t exactly pop, but rather faded into your consciousness. (Extra kudos to director of photography John Toll for that.) And other delightful performances brighten the film — Wiest, of course, and also character veteran M. Emmet Walsh as Uncle Bub. David Morse, who has had on-camera cred since the St. Elsewhere days right up through HBO’s excellent Treme, does well as a conflicted tough-guy grandfather. Ron Livingston had more challenges in his roles in Sex and the City and Band of Brothers, but he handled the blocky villain role ably here. And lovely Israeli teenager Odeya Rush works quiet magic as Timothy’s soulmate.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green is affecting for anyone, but especially for parents of a son. I saw it with my family, tuned in to the warmth of my wife’s feelings and enjoying seeing my 11-year-old son, sitting on the other side of her, leaning forward to be closer to the story.
In a word, it was…well, sweet. — Adam Barr
Copyright 2012 Adam Barr