Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, CJ Adams, Odeya Rush, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Rosemarie DeWitt, David Morse, M. Emmet Walsh, Lois Smith, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Dianne Wiest, Ron Livingston, James Rebhorn, Common, Michael Arden
Written by: Peter Hedges, based on a story by Ahmet Zappa
Directed by: Peter Hedges
MPAA Rating: PG for mild thematic elements and brief language
Running Time: 100
Date: 08/15/2012
IMDB

The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Plant Buy Me Love

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

So apparently Ahmet Zappa -- son of Frank Zappa -- concocted this story. A married couple, unable to conceive a child, begins writing wishes on pieces of paper: all the things their child would be. They put the paper in a wooden box and bury it in the garden. A mystical storm later, and a dirty boy climbs out of the garden and presents himself to them. He seems perfectly normal, and not supernatural; others can see him. The only catch is that he has leaves growing out of his legs. These leaves have a heartbreaking significance.

Now, Zappa gave this story to writer/director Peter Hedges, who is an expert with family stories and ensemble casts; his Pieces of April (2003) remains a classic Thanksgiving movie. Hedges created a group of fascinating, warm, flawed, funny people to surround the plant child, who is called Timothy Green (CJ Adams).

The couple is Jim (Joel Edgerton) and Cindy Green (Jennifer Garner). Cindy has a chatty, obnoxious sister, Brenda (Rosemarie DeWitt), and Jim has a grim, silent father (David Morse) he's continually trying to impress. Lois Smith and M. Emmet Walsh play an elderly aunt and uncle.

The small town in which they all reside is known for pencils. The men work in a pencil factory, and the women run a pencil museum. The Crudstaff family runs everything. Bernice (Dianne Wiest) is the matriarch and Franklin (Ron Livingston) is the mean, small factory manager. Rapper Common plays Timothy's soccer coach, who insists on benching him.

The alarmingly beautiful Odeya Rush plays Joni Jerome, Timothy's only friend, and the only one who likes him just as he is. (Even Jim and Cindy try to snip off Timothy's leaves.) Finally, Shohreh Aghdashloo stars as a woman from an adoption agency, to whom Jim and Cindy tell their entire story in flashback.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a funky mixture of earth and fertilizer, and I wonder if, at some point, Hedges wished he could simply abandon the entire idea and bring his characters into a more realistic world. He obviously added the word "odd" in the title, perhaps as a buffering mechanism. He probably tweaked the villainous Crudstaff characters, making them more cartoonish, as if making some attempt at balance.

But balance just isn't there. The movie has some truly lovely moments, achieved through total open-heartedness, and then some awfully awkward ones, arrived at through the same means. Overall, Timothy's journey is a typical Disney one: learn to love yourself for who you are and others will follow. But the parents' journey is more complex. What did they learn from their time with Timothy? Mostly they learn what not to do, which seems almost cruel to the Timothy character (as if he were simply a whipping boy). Thankfully Timothy seems pretty wise and resilient, and wherever he goes after this, I'm sure he'll be just fine.