“The Odd Life of Timothy Green” isn’t really so odd. A junior-high age kid gets picked on at school, he falls for a girl who’s taller and more popular than he is, he plays soccer (sort of), and deep down inside he wants to make his parents proud, and happy—no matter how into himself or indifferent he may seem.
But Timothy Green was “born” to parents who were told they could never have children, and who, working through their devastation with glasses of wine one evening, had written down all of the things about their hypothetical kid that would make him just the perfect one . . . for them. Later that night, following a crack of lightning and a rainstorm that only seems to have fallen on the Green property, Cindy (Jennifer Garner) and Jim (Joel Edgerton) discover a dirty boy in the garden where they had “planted” their box full of written characteristics. “Mom,” he says. “Dad?” What else could they do but take him in and introduce friends and neighbors to their new son?
This is a tough movie to review, because the premise is also the entire plot, and to say even a little more is to say too much. Let me just explain that “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” feels like a magical realist short story that was fleshed out to fill the space of a 105-minute full-length feature. Once you notice the thing that makes Timothy stand out from all of the other kids—which is introduced within the film’s first 20 minutes—you pretty much know what’s going to happen. The only questions remaining are when and how. Then too, the film’s frame gives absolutely everything away. So did the old "Columbo" TV series, where the fun was in matching wits with a detective who appeared bumbling on the surface but was really brilliant. The journey was more fun than the destination, but I can't say the same about this film.
“The Odd Life of Timothy Green” is rated PG for “mild thematic elements and brief language,” but there’s nothing that children of all ages couldn’t be exposed to . . . except, perhaps, for the theme. This film, which plays like a fable that’s just a little too preachy for my tastes, hits you with a message about life and death that’s aimed at making folks appreciate the time they have on earth with each other. So on the one hand it’s a feel-good movie, but on the other hand, if you have children who are sensitive about death or losing loved ones, popping this into the Blu-ray player could have the same effect on them as “Old Yeller.”
That’s not my biggest objection, though. It’s the unnecessarily ponderous tone that screenwriter-director Peter Hedges (“Dan in Real Life”) hangs around this film’s neck—a tone, augmented by a dolorous soundtrack that makes the film feel like a Hallmark or Lifetime movie. It’s the stock scenes that he subjects us to—like the opening scene inside a fertility clinic where Garner’s long face and the location says it all. A pullback shot leaving us to look at the countryside around the clinic and a cut to the next scene would have been more merciful. There are at least three scenes like that where I found myself thinking they were totally unnecessary because everyone can read the signs from the overly familiar signifiers.
I know, I know. How can you shoot the messenger that’s actually trying to bring you news about dealing with one of life’s most emotional traumas? To be fair, “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” isn’t a bad film. It’s just that for a movie that tries to be inspirational, it’s itself not very inspired—from the pedestrian cinematography to a paint-by-numbers sideplot involving Jim Green, Sr. (David Morse) and his son, a relationship that’s mostly communicated by the character standing and scowling and looking uncommunicative and unsupportive.
One bright spot is Odeya Rush, who brings a certain verve to the role of Joni, the free-spirited friend of Timothy’s. It’s when these two interact that the film starts to veer off that predictable path and get interesting. Otherwise, you know where this is headed almost from the very beginning, and there are no surprises to trip you up.
“The Odd Life of Timothy Green” LOOKS brilliant, however. The AVC/MPEG-4 transfer sparkles, with near-perfect color and black levels, precise detail, and just enough grain to give it texture. Even long shots in natural light fare well. “Timothy” is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
The audio is also rock-solid, with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track delivering an immersive soundtrack during some scenes, and clear dialogue with a nice complement of ambient sounds in other scenes. Additional audio options are French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish.
Hedges’ commentary track is as ponderous and deliberate as the film itself, though he does manage to cover all the usual bases: conception, pre-development, casting, shooting, and a fair amount of technical observations. But that’s really the big bonus feature. Everything else is kind of fluffy. “This Is Family” (10 min.) is a collage of cast and crew interviews in which they talk about the story and the film, offering their take; “The Gift of Music” (9 min.) offers a look at Geoff Zanelli’s original score; five deleted scenes averaging just a little over a minute are presented with optional director’s commentary; and a “This Gift” music video is included. That’s it, unless you count trailers for other titles. This is a combo pack, so the DVD can be considered another bonus.
For some, the message of “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” will be rewarding enough. I wanted more complexity, and less melodrama and movie-of-the-week messaging.