‘Odd Life ...’ is cute without being too sweet

By Christopher K. Conner

In the realm of overused metaphor, there are few objects that can equal the leaf. Symbolizing the fleeting nature of life, a measure of abundance, the ominous approach of winter or unspecified evil, in 2012 leaves are getting a workout. To the crowd of leaf symbolism add “The Odd Life of Timothy Green”.

Cindy (Jenifer Garner) and Jim Green (Joel Edgerton) are childless parents applying to adopt a child. On their application they have left some information off, hoping to get to tell the story of Timothy to the adoption officer themselves. The rest of the movie is their story, or rather, the story of the few months they had with Timothy Green.

Understandably distraught at learning they will never be able to have children of their own, Cindy and Jim are trying to find ways of dealing with the news.  Eventually Jim begins writing down characteristics of the child they should have. After a few ideas, Cindy joins in and they compile a small stack of papers, each with some characteristic of their fictitious child. Once they’ve completed the stack, they bury the papers in a wooden box in the garden.

That night, a freak rainstorm drenches the area around their home. This is notable because of the local drought and watering restrictions. After being awakened by the storm and an unlatched screen door, the couple are startled to find that a mud covered boy is wandering around their house. Suspecting that he is a runaway, Jim calls the police, but soon realizes that Timothy (CJ Adams) is not a lost child but something more. Besides fulfilling the couple’s list of characteristics, Timothy has several leaves growing from his lower legs.

Knowing as we do from the beginning that Timothy does not stay with the couple, the audience anticipates that something must happen to the boy before the movie’s end. After a strangely brief period of adjustment, the couple accepts Timothy as a part of their family and introduces him as their presumably adopted son.

In a movie where a boy has sprouted from the garden, the audience has to accept a certain amount of fantasy. What ended up being difficult to understand is how easily the town seemed to accept the sudden appearance of this child. He suddenly starts attending school, is immediately bullied by the kids of Jim’s boss. Timothy ends up connecting with members of the couple’s families, as well as people of the town, more deeply than can be adequately explained within the brevity of the movie.

In a way similar to another leaf centered film “One Thousand Words”, the mysteries around which the film is set are accepted and for the most part ignored.  There will be no explanation of what happened and why. Even as Timothy feels his leaves falling off and he recognizes the amount of time he has with the Greens is short, he avoids explaining this or anything about himself, to his family.

“The Odd Life of Timothy Green” is sometimes harshly broken by its format. Several of the time shifts between the adoption agency office and the events of Timothy’s life are brutal. Any involvement in the story comes to a crashing halt so that the frantic characters of Cindy and Jim can explain further how they made mistakes dealing with this situation or that confrontation. While a retrospective narrative can be powerful, “Odd Life” does not use it well.

In between the narrative interruptions, Cindy and Jim live in a town full of near caricatures. Jim’s distant and disapproving father, Cindy’s competitive and superficial sister, their respective bosses, all of them are set in place to illustrate that only Timothy can appreciate and release their humanity while his parents do their best to prove themselves against the backdrop of cardboard characters. This makes the resulting film cute and amusing.

Throughout the film, a burgeoning relationship between Timothy and Joni (Odeya Rush) that provides a distraction. There is a feeling that Timothy appeared on the scene almost more to open Joni up to the world than to be the Green’s child. Initially a dour outcast, Joni becomes a smiling, friendly child.

Though “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” leaves much unexplained and feels a bit choppy in places, it is fun. There is an adequate range of emotion to fill out the cuteness and keep it from being too sickly sweet. “Odd Life” is a family film that does most of what it needs to do to make for an enjoyable time at the movies without being obnoxiously precocious.

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