Full Disclosure: I didn’t know anything about The Odd Life of Timothy Green going into it. In fact, I’d seen only one trailer, and I honestly thought it was a creepy, quirky horror, Pet Semetary-style film about a kid grown in the garden that wreaked havoc on a quiet community. I was initially taken aback by the number of kids in the screening I attended, and even then, it took me a few minutes to realize it was a young adult movie. Based on the large crowd, I’m also assuming that it’s based on a celebrated kid’s book (in fact, I saw Ahmet Zappa’s name in the credits, so without looking it up, I’ll attribute it to him).
I don’t review kids’ films, typically, and that’s particularly so for live-action kid’s films, and I wouldn’t have reviewed this one had I known in advance. There’s a very simple reason for that: I’m incapable of being objective. I love kids. Not just my own, but in general. Like, adore them. I have an even softer spot for those precocious kids so popular in movies these days. They make my heart swim. Seeing a cute kid go through the experiences and conflict inherent in even the most benign kid’s film is emotionally difficult for me. When it comes to kids, my emotions are very heightened, so the death of a kid? It’s too much. But when it’s a cute, precocious kid? It’s devastating. The last time I dared watch a film like that was Bridge to Terabithia, and it wrecked me for hours.
When I was looking up movie times for the film on my little iPhone app, I did notice that The Odd Life of Timothy Green was currently sitting at 30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Given my inability to be objective, you’d be better off trusting that score. I mean, single, childless white old guys are clearly a better judge of this movie than I. They’re less inclined to allow touching moments and rousing music cloud their judgement. They’re probably also immune to such facile thoughts as, “Wow, this obviously caring and affectionate celebrity mother has made a really sweet film about the wonderment of life that her kids will be able to truly enjoy and appreciate.” Those critics are also likely not likely to allow their emotions be manipulated by anyone other than Christopher Nolan or Joss Whedon, and any movie without a big dose of wry humor is clearly not going to appeal to them. The Odd Life of Timothy Green is earnest and straightforward, and it has Disney’s slickly sweet imprimatur all over it. Yuck, right?
They’re probably not suckers for magical realism like I am, either. It’s a preposterous premise, after all: A husband (Joel Edgerton) and wife (Jennifer Garner) devastated by the news that they will never be able to have children of their own spend one night before moving on with their lives dreaming up all the qualities they might want in a child. They write them down on tiny pieces of paper, put them in a box, and plant them in a garden. The next morning, that child magically appears in their bed, and he’s just as they had imagined. It’s a miracle of sorts. I’m dumb enough to see a miracle at work in all kids — you insert something in her something and boom! nine months later, there’s a life living in your home? — so silly me, I just went with the premise.
Of course, there’s a catch. The kid has leaves on his legs (eye roll, right?), which he keeps covered with long socks. Unfortunately, every time he touches the life of someone else — be it a repressed family member (David Morse), a dying grandfather, a shrewish old lady (Diane Wiest), an uptight aunt (Rosemarie Dewitt) or another child afraid of her own differences (Odeya Rush) — he loses a leaf. We know, too, from the outset — because the parents, in an adoption agency in the present day, speak of Timothy Green in the past tense — that Timothy will die, or be taken away, or returned to the garden from which he grew. I’m sure that the more objective critics will note the inherent manipulation in such a device, noting that those touching moments littered throughout the film are all the more powerful because we know the ultimate fate of Timothy Green. I’m sure those critics, too, think the whole thing kind of creepy.
They’re probably right.
When I was a kid, I went and saw My Girl at the movie theater. I saw it with a friend of mine, who brought his sister, and he and I sat a chair apart in the theater, like you do when you’re 15-year-old dudes attending a movie together. I remember when the MacCauley Culkin character died that the entire theater was wracked with sobs. I mean, some of those soft-hearted simpletons were in hysterics. It was so awkward for my friend and I hearing all those girly-girls around us bawling, and we were so overcome by the tension, that we just burst into laughter. We giggled for a good ten minutes as the people around us blew their noses and wiped away the tears. We were above that sort of blatant manipulation.
I’ll say this much about my experience with The Odd Life of Timothy Green, however: I’m not nearly as cool as I was when I was 15. When all those people around me started sniffling and wiping away tears, I didn’t laugh this time. I guess when it comes to feel-good, tear-jerking kid’s movies, I’m just one of those simple, soft-hearted middle Americans. So, don’t mind me. Stick with those other critics who don’t allow heartfelt fairy tales mixed with a healthy dose of sweetness infect their tear ducts.