Walt Disney once said, “Life is composed of lights and shadows, and we would be untruthful, insincere, and saccharine if we tried to pretend there were no shadows.” That might be a surprising quote from a man known for his uplifting family films, but it’s one of the secrets to Walt’s amazing story sense. It’s a secret the filmmakers behind “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” would have greatly benefited from.
Opening today, August 15, 2012, “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” is about a happily married couple (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) who are unable to have children. In an effort to move on, they describe in detail what their kid would have been like. They write all of these attributes down and bury them in the garden. Later that night, the child they described shows up at their doorstep. His name is Timothy and he has leaves growing out of his legs.
All of that takes place in the first 10 minutes. Up until that point it’s a wonderfully acted and emotional family drama. I was in tears when the doctor tells them they’ve done all they can — very reminiscent of Pixar’s “Up.”
Unfortunately, once Timothy shows up, the film takes a huge tonal shift and everyone becomes dumb.
The next day, they go about integrating Timothy into their life and no one seems to question where he came from at all. Oh they ask of course, but everyone is satisfied with really lame answers. Even if you’re not familiar with the almost always excruciatingly long adoption process, it’s a good bet most people realize you don’t find out you’re infertile one day and welcome an adopted child into your home the next.
From there the film meanders from scene to scene without any sort of dramatic urgency. Timothy himself never feels like a real boy and comes off more than a little creepy at times. It hits on several big ideas and themes but never really settles on one. I’m not really sure what the film is about.
I suppose it could be compared to Mary Poppins in its structure, but Poppins has this great sadness underneath and some truly dark moments. “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” has some moments that should have been dark, but they choose to play them like it’s just another thing that happened.
On the bright side, Garner and Edgerton do a fine job with weak material, and the cinematography was beautiful. It really captured an idyllic small town feel that was nice to look at, but I don’t think it served the story well. It’s such and odd (there, I said it) story that it would have been much better suited to a Tim Burton fantasy style aesthetic.
Overall it’s a film that’s just a little too sweet. I admire what they were going for, but they just didn’t achieve it. Instead of a touching movie exploring some of life’s biggest issues and themes, it’s “untruthful, insincere, and saccharine.” Let’s hope they learn from Walt on the next one.