Disney’s The Odd Life of Timothy Green deserves credit where credit is due, yet leaves its viewer with a feeling of incompleteness in that it doesn’t achieve all that it could. The viewer is presented with the story of a childless couple, Jim and Cindy Green (Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner) who one night find that a boy of about ten years old has appeared from out of the soil in their garden—and he has leaves growing out of his legs (leaves, which cannot be removed) and he immediately addresses the befuddled Jim and Cindy as “Mom” and “Dad.”
The movie wisely does not to go into a long explanation of how this miraculous event came to be, leaving this to the viewer’s imagination. The Greens don’t ask questions, they accept this gift from God or Mother Nature without hesitation and agree to raise the child as their own, all the while keeping his legs covered in long socks so as not to reveal his telltale leaves. Two things are made clear: he is a composite of all the traits the parents had wished for in a son and he seems to be of a species of botanical origin. This is apparent by his consistent show of basking in the glare of the sun throughout the movie. The kid — the Timothy of the title — of course, is perfect. So well-behaved it is almost too good to be true. The kind every parent longs to have. He goes to school, is oblivious to the jokes and pranks that bullies make at his expense, tries out for the soccer team, proves to draw expertly with a pencil, and even shows talent with a drumbeat.
Watching Timothy Green evokes the memories of similarly themed films as 1985’s superb D.A.R.Y.L. and 2001’s moodier A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Like the preteen-aged boys of those movies, Timothy is not quite human, and it shows in his quirky, offbeat behavior. Unlike the earlier films, Timothy Green fails to explore the full depths of this behavior, preferring to focus more on the parents and their observations of and reactions to this miracle child of theirs. This is a mistake on the movie’s part, as Jim and Cindy, despite the complexities of their characters and their obvious insecurities with being thrust full-time into parenthood (Jim is determined to become an improvement over his own less-than-supportive father Jim Sr., played by David Morse) do not sustain as much interest as the fantastical Timothy.
Consider the early scene where Timothy is bullied in school for his noticeable differences — he is brand new to this world and needs to be told how things work and what they mean. This theme was visited in D.A.R.Y.L when the boy-robot of the title is winked at by a girl and responds by blinking with both eyes, not knowing the meaning of the gesture. Only in Timothy Green, Timothy’s relationships with other kids are not adequately explored. His friendship with an alienated girl Joni (Odeya Rush) is presented without much dialogue at all. Joni figures out early on Timothy’s secret physical characteristics, i.e. his leaves and origins. But the interplay between the two does not go much further. Joni’s presence does not lead Timothy’s character development in any new directions. This is in direct contrast to the much more dynamic relationship between Daryl and his young friend “Turtle” in D.A.R.Y.L., where Turtle teaches Daryl that, because parents don’t want their children to be too perfect, he needs to display a mischievous side once in a while. Timothy Green does not offer Timothy such opportunities for exploration.
Looming in the background is a subplot about the town’s primary base of industry, the beloved pencil factory that is in danger of shutting down, leaving Jim and most of the townsfolk out of work. Timothy’s cheerfully optimistic personality encourages Jim and Cindy to take a step to save the factory, which turns out to be an inspired idea, best not to be revealed in this review. There is of course the obligatory threat from the factory bosses to take credit for this step and the conflict between them and the parents. Such elements are standard movie fare, but effective in this case.
Ultimately, Timothy Green is a respectable film that deals with its themes with grace and maturity. It is certainly appropriate for the whole family to enjoy. It is charming in many ways. It just does not go the entire distance. There are too many missed opportunities, times when the film left the door open to explore certain elements and ideas and then abandoned them before going any further. It is a pretty good movie that could have been great.