The jaded Hollywood press members who watched The Odd Life of Timothy Green with me immediately jumped on the question of the “target audience.” “Who is this film for?” they snarked. “What kind of people would go see it?” Director Peter Hedges has an easy answer – it’s for parents who worry about the job they’re doing – but that doesn’t remove the curious atonality that prompted the question in the first place. Hedges, who specializes in quirky fare like this, knows exactly what he wants to say. Sadly, the road he takes is just too devoid of dramatic energy to work.
If an ode to helicoptering parents is your game, you could do worse than his premise, which involves a childless couple (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) creating a little boy out of their own wishful thinking. They spend a wine-fueled evening writing down the traits an ideal child might have, then bury the notes in their garden as a part of a grand farewell to their parenting aspirations. One evening of magical rainfall later and Timothy (CJ Adams) shows up: wiser than his years and ready to be everything they always dreamed of. Sure, he sprouts leaves on his shins and no one in town seems to wonder how his new folks got ahold of a ten-year-old, but this is fantasy! Go with it!
Logic problems like that crop up throughout the film, which relies on episodic set pieces to carry itself along. Most are intended to teach the two leads about life as parents, specifically the need to let a child be himself instead of trying to control his every action. Both have overbearing relatives of their own to deal with, as well as the too-curious residents of their Rockwellian small town whom Timothy’s halting antics both delight and exasperate. It works fitfully, and then only because the two stars throw themselves so completely into their roles. Garner sells us on it through sheer force of will, while Edgerton’s amiability and penchant for hidden emotions creates a character out of what could have been just a jumble of daddy-issue clichés.
Unfortunately, The Odd Life of Timothy Green can’t sustain itself solely on their journey. Hedges adds a fistful of subplots, ranging from Timothy’s burgeoning girlfriend (Odeya Rush) to Edgerton’s uber-douche of a boss (Ron Livingston). Most of them circle back to question of the the town’s struggling pencil factory, allowing Hedges to mine the Antediluvian “we’re all gonna be out of work” cliché with ruthless abandon. Such narrative wild hairs might have been more forgivable if they didn’t wander in and out without apparent purpose. Most of them don’t climax so much as stop, and a few of them simply lie abandoned in the middle of the film. More vital elements suffer from the same issues, devoid of proper build-up and dogged by gaping logic holes that even the most indulgent viewer will stumble over.
Those problems become all the more troubling when you consider the film’s good intentions and sweet spirit. It intends no harm and carries a worthwhile message in its heart; the kind of effort that we expect with a name like Disney over the credits. Hedges has a vision and his cast is devoted to bringing it to life. Talented people trying hard, a story that defies run-of-the-mill… and yet somehow it just doesn’t come together. We should encourage more efforts like this, because it at least attempts something different. Noble failures are still failures, however, no matter how hard they try.