Jennifer Garner as Cindy Green
Joel Edgerton as Jim Green
CJ Adams as Timothy Green
Ron Livingston as Franklin Crudstaff
Odeya Rush as Joni Jerome
David Morse as James Green Sr.
Rosemarie DeWitt as Brenda Best
Dianne Wiest as Ms. Crudstaff
Michael Arden as Doug Wert
Lois Smith as Aunt Mel
Rhoda Griffis as Dr. Lesley Hunt
Jason Davis as Bart Best
M. Emmet Walsh as Uncle Bub
Common as the Coach
Shohreh Aghdashloo as Adoption Agency Staff
Directed by Peter Hedges
Jim and Cindy Green (Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Garner) want a child really, really badly. But they’re not going to get one, or so they’re told. After the final test comes back with the final word, Jim and Cindy take all the dreams they had for the child they wanted and lay them to rest in the backyard in an attempt to move on. Instead, their dreams take root, grow and sprout into a fully developed 10-year-old boy (CJ Adams) covered in mud and with leaves growing from his legs who calls himself Timothy Green.
There is a lot of whimsy and fancy in writer-director Peter (“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “About A Boy”) Hedges’ intentionally Capra-esque film fable–not of the over the top, in your face kind but more of just at the edges kind. Jim is a blue collar worker in the town’s one factory, but that one factory happens to be a pencil factory, the heart of the town’s economy right down to the pencil company museum for tourists administered by the town’s rich and powerful pencil company owners. That sort of thing is the kind of world a boy with leaves on his legs will fit into or not, the sort of world where the crusty old town owners are named Crudstaff and it’s not unusual for someone to have an alliterative name.
Into this world Hedges has placed his fable (based on a story by producer Ahmet Zappa) and into his fable he has attempted to place real people dealing with the real emotions of living, of parenting, of loving unconditionally, of expectations. The result is an extreme push-me-pull-you feeling as the film tries to keep both its feet in two very different worlds at the same time. Moreover, it tries to do so while doing the best it can to avoid any sort of real teeth for as long as possible. Despite dealing with life and death and love and loss, it seldom wants to delve as deeply into any of those subjects as it acts like it is, often brushing off complex emotions and events through magic that borders on being trite. Fortunately it only borders, without outright crossing over. One of the hardest things to do is evoke emotion without sentimentality and while “Timothy Green” toys with it, Hedges pulls it back from the edge for the most part.
And, it must be said, Timothy himself is genuinely winsome in both concept and execution. A pure spirit, untouched by anything petty or banal he exists to remind us how glorious life is even in its most common pursuits. It’s a role that could easily be butchered considering it has to be done by a child actor, but Hedges seems to have found just the right actor in CJ Adams to convey Timothy’s magical and human elements jointly.
His adult counterparts don’t fare quite as well, aware as they are that they are in a fable of sorts. While Edgerton and Garner hold their own with the fantasy elements while still inhabiting real people, people who are struggling with the reality of parenthood for the first time, many of the co-stars can’t help but overdo it playing to type rather than person. Some of that is because they don’t have the time to be well-defined. Jim’s dad is simply a distant father and little more and something similar holds true for Ms. Crudstaff. Since this is a fable they don’t need to be much more than that, but the performances do draw unfortunate notice to the fact.
If it’s not quite as deep as it would like, “Timothy Green” does what it sets out to do better than most. Charming and affecting, it has something to say not just about the nature of parenting but it does so generally without angst going so far as to suggest we don’t really need it in our lives. The gentleness which makes that work also makes the film itself just a touch too light for its own good. Still, in lieu of an actual new Capra film, “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” is a good substitute and that’s not bad company to be in.