No one would be ostracized for viewing the trailer for Disney's latest live action drama, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, and jumping to the conclusion that it is another entry in the studio's mediocre family-film catalog. That is, until the talent attached to the movie starts appearing on screen. It's not every day that Disney offers an audience a story developed by Ahmet Zappa and directed by Peter Hedges, the duo behind the excellent Pieces of April and the misunderstood Dan in Real Life. Is there more to the film than the viewer assumes at first impression?
Jim and Cindy Green (Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner) are a happily married couple who lead seemingly picturesque lives until they learn that they are unable to conceive a child. In a moment of desperation, as an exercise to help cheer Cindy up, Jim takes a notepad and starts writing all of the characteristics that their imaginary child would have. These traits range from the noble (a good heart, a great sense of humor) to the slightly narcissistic (kicking the winning goal in a championship game). Placing the notes in a wooden box, they bury it in Cindy's garden as a gesture that they are moving on with their lives.
That night, a storm strikes, dumping water on only their property. The ground above the buried box starts to crack open and push up from the earth. Getting out of bed to shut an open door, Jim finds muddy footprints all around the house. With the help of Cindy, they manage to find the culprit: a 10-year-old boy named Timothy, standing naked and muddy inside their unused nursery. Timothy exhibits all of the traits that the couple had written earlier that night and refuses to call them anything other than mom and dad. One thing that they didn't ask for, however, are the leaves that are seemingly growing naturally out of the young boy's legs, which prove to be invulnerable to methods of removal.
Life proves to be more difficult for the threesome than they originally had hoped for. Attempting to hide his abnormality from classmates by wearing long socks only seems to make Timothy a larger target for their torment. Jim's attempts at keeping a tenuous grip on his job at the local pencil factory are exacerbated by the new responsibilities he gains by being a father, while Cindy finds that Timothy's frank honesty is more than her boss (Dianne Wiest) can bear.
Hedges has made a career out of pulling unexpected performances out of his actors, but here he stumbles for the first time in his career. Edgerton and Garner's portrayal of parents blessed with a child slowly becomes the story of a couple that only thinks of themselves. They are blessed with a magical child, and they become enraged when the kid isn't the star of the soccer team or isn't a musical prodigy. As an actress, Garner has her detractors, with many saying that her best performances are the result of skilled editing. Here, Hedges fails.
Then again, perhaps that is too much blame to place on Hedges as the director; he also wrote the plothole-filled screenplay, which is somehow even worse than the film itself. It is understood that a certain degree of suspended disbelief is required when dealing with a fantasy film, but nothing in this movie makes any sense at all. If the child is a product of magic, why is the couple given a preteen instead of the mother's infertility just being mysteriously healed? Why is everyone in this town so accepting of a young man suddenly appearing, with no one looking further into the loose adoption story Cindy gives them? If the kid's leg leaves are that big of a deal, why not just put him in pants instead of shorts and long socks? These are just some of the questions that you will be left pondering at the end of this film.
While every director has at least one misfire in their filmography, the degree of failure on showcase here is outstanding. After all, Hedges is the writer of About a Boy and What's Eating Gilbert Grape?. We have concrete proof that he's a terrific scribe of family situations. But here we are left with an unsatisfying ending that clumsily attempts to tug at the heartstrings. Sadly, this is a completely wasted effort by a talented filmmaker and ultimately not worthy of the time invested by the viewer.