We put beauty in boxes, our treasures in chests. Into these vessels we pour pictures and letters, jewels and toys. We set them aside as precious to us, making sure they stay safe and secure. If what we store is valuable enough, we'll shut the lid, lock it tight and bury our items in basements or attics or crawl spaces—as if we're afraid whatever's inside might get lost or damaged or, inexplicably, vanish.
But boxes can't hold everything precious. They can't keep everything safe.
Jim and Cindy Green want a child. They've tried everything to have one of their own, but to no avail. And when they definitively hear from their doctor that conceiving one will be impossible, they grieve the loss.
They decide to honor their "child"—or, at least, their idea of one—filling a small wooden box with notes detailing all they'd hoped their kid would be: optimistic, determined, artistic, musical. He'd be "honest to a fault," they imagined. And even though both Jim and Cindy were horrible athletes, they dreamed that their child would—just once—score the winning goal.
Then they close the lid, dig a hole in their vegetable garden and lovingly plant their hope. They go inside and up to bed, vowing to move on … tomorrow.
But before the sun rises, the Greens find a strange visitor lurking in their unused nursery: a 10-year-old boy in dire need of a bath. Jim and Cindy give him one and wonder a billion questions: Where did this kid come from? Is he lost? Abandoned? He couldn't have grown from their garden, could he? From their box full of wishes?
And if he didn't, why in the world does he have leaves sprouting from his ankles?
"Please don't ask me about my leaves," he somberly says. "But you can look at them—if you want." And then, as the adults slowly digest this strange, strange night, the little boy calls Cindy "Mom." He calls Jim "Dad."
It's at that moment the two realize they're three now—a growing family. And when you're raising a family, it's important to think outside the box.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green falls somewhere between fable and fever dream, and folks who insist that films make some sort of sense might walk out with way too many questions: How did Timothy learn English? Why does everyone just accept this new but already half-grown Green so readily? What would happen if some jokester sprayed weed killer on Timothy's legs?
But for those who are comfortable in answering such queries with he just did and they just do and don't be mean—those who slip into this movie as a 6-year-old might slip into a beloved bedtime story—there's truth and beauty here, and both in abundance.
Jim and Cindy, naturally, love their garden's little gift to them. Cynics might say that Timothy would be an easy kid to love, what with his parents essentially crafting their ideal child and planting it like a mustard seed. But that misses the point, because Jim and Cindy didn't ask for—or get—a perfect kid. He's too trusting, for one thing, and (as they asked for) honest to a fault. He's the sort of boy who gets bullied in school, a boy destined to always be picked last in kickball and called to the principal's office for daydreaming too much in class. Timothy's different, and even as Jim and Cindy relish his uniqueness, they struggle to come to terms with it. After all, it's not just kids who deal with peer pressure.
When Cindy's sister brags once too many times about her overachieving children, Cindy blurts out that Timothy's a musical prodigy (which he isn't). Jim desperately wants his son to succeed on the soccer field—not because it'd be good for Timothy (who's happy just getting water for the team), but for Jim and his difficult relationship with his own father. Jim and Cindy love their child, but they want him (as I think most parents do) to be normal; to fit in, even if that's not a high priority for Timothy himself.
"It's a hard world to be different in," Cindy tells him. "Lots of people hate anything different."
But Timothy is different. And he is bullied and mocked. The family deals with death and disappointment. And in trying to help Timothy maneuver through it all, Jim and Cindy make loads of mistakes.
Rather beautifully, though, they come to embrace those mistakes. And when asked what they'd do differently, they say they'd make new mistakes, maybe more of them. For it's through those mistakes that learning and growth really take place.
Growth, obviously, is a big metaphor here. Just as the Greens' garden grew a little boy, Timothy helps his parents grow into … parents. And they all cultivate and care for one another.
Timothy helps those outside his family grow too. He encourages a young girl to not be afraid to be different, eventually revealing a disfiguring birthmark. He helps his uncle laugh. He's like a pint-size Giving Tree, freely offering whatever he has to those around them—even though it sometimes costs him dearly.
As such, the movie gives us something: strong messages about parenthood and childhood, about unconditional love and the beauty of adoption.
There's nothing preachy about Timothy Green. We're not told whether the kid was a gift from God or the gods or just some strange, spiritual, fertilizer mishap. But we're left to assume that some sort of power orchestrated his arrival, and Cindy admits that his appearance was "kind of miraculous."
Still, in the midst of boys sprouting between the cabbages and rutabagas, there's a marvelous message Christians can embrace: All children are miraculous; all are gifts.
Timothy develops a crush on a girl named Joni, a year or two older and far more worldly. She wears a midriff-baring outfit to a birthday party, and she nearly kisses Timothy while both are in a pool. (We see other girls wearing two-piece bathing suits.)
Timothy's parents see the attraction and decide to have "The Talk" with Timothy (though it gets sidetracked by a family emergency). Cindy believes that Joni may be a "bad influence" on Timothy, and, indeed, the two kids do run off into the woods together for long stretches of time. But despite Timothy's attraction to the girl, their relationship remains platonic; when they say goodbye, they part with a hug, not a kiss.
Along with other kids, Timothy gets nailed with a dodgeball. He kicks someone in the face for getting too close to his socks. A kid gets injured during a soccer game.
While Timothy doesn't seem to be subjected to violent bullying, schoolmates do smear food and ice cream on him, turning him into a walking sundae.
Crude or Profane Language
One "h---." Four or five misplaced interjections of God's name.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Jim and Cindy drink wine at dinner. Hyped up during a soccer game, Jim makes somebody think he's been drinking.
Other Negative Elements
Someone tries to take credit for an invention of Jim and Cindy's (but is caught doing so). Jim and Cindy can, at times, be a little obnoxious (but feel bad about it afterwards).
Sometimes we put our children in the very same boxes we place our jewels and mementos of trips to Aruba.
It just makes sense. Of all our precious things, they're what we treasure most. We want to protect them from all harm, to save them from hurt or discomfort or even their own bad decisions. We love them passionately, even painfully. We want what's best for them.
"It's not that we wanted him to be perfect," Cindy says of Timothy. We wanted it to be perfect. His childhood." And what parent can't relate to that?
But childhood isn't perfect, however much we wish it could be. Nor is it permanent. We can't keep our kids kids forever—lock them away as eternal 10-year-olds. The pictures we keep in our computers. The memories we lock away in our minds. But our children themselves … they move on.
"It's how it's supposed to be," Timothy says. "There's only so much time."
The Odd Life of Timothy Green is an odd but beautiful rumination on what it means to be a parent. As a constructed story, it has its shortcomings. As a hazy, rosy reflection of parenthood, it's often quite emotional—and encouraging. We tell our kids it's OK to make mistakes: It's how we learn, we say. But often, we don't give ourselves the same license. Truth is, parents are just as imperfect as kids, and as much as we try to teach our children the paths to walk and the pits to avoid, we're not just teaching them. We're learning too—sometimes with them, sometimes even from them.
In all of that the movie doesn't undermine parental authority. It merely acknowledges that being a mom or a dad is still more art than science—something we get better at as we go, and something that is utterly unaltered by whether your child is biologically linked to you or not.
It's a double bonus that a film so much about family makes it easy for the whole family to watch together. Timothy Green is almost completely devoid of problematic content, and it's a rare circumstance for a wide-release, live-action film to be this clean, this instructive and this enjoyable.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Drama, Comedy, Kids
Jennifer Garner as Cindy Green; Joel Edgerton as Jim Green; CJ Adams as Timothy Green; Odeya Rush as Joni Jerome; Rosemarie DeWitt as Brenda Best; David Morse as James Green Sr.; Ron Livingston as Franklin Crudstaff; Dianne Wiest as Ms. Crudstaff
Peter Hedges (Dan in Real Life)
August 15, 2012
Paul Asay Paul Asay