Friday, September 7, 2012

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

Alternate Title:  Plant-Jesus, the Early Years

One sentence synopsis:  A childless couple buries their wishes for a child only to find one grown seemingly out of the ground.

Things Havoc liked:  I feel that some background may be necessary for this one.

There are occasions on this movie project wherein I find myself facing down a week with nothing to see. Sometimes I make the best of a bad situation, and go see something that really doesn't interest me, and sometimes I call an audible and just pick whatever looks the most interesting. This time however, I literally walk into the theatre and ask the lady at the ticket counter to recommend me something starting within the next half-hour. Her suggestion is a strange movie I've seen posters for, but know nothing about, called The Odd Life of Timothy Green.

I step back, take out my smartphone, and began to consult the internet. Reviews are mixed for the movie, but several of the top critics in the country, including those of the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times (the latter of whom is of course the great Roger Ebert), the Hollywood Reporter, the Arizona Republic, and my own local SF Chronicle all praise it in glowing terms. I look over the cast: Ron Livingston, James Rebhorn, Dianne West, David Morse, and Emmet Walsh (whom Roger Ebert once opined has never appeared in a bad film, a trait he shares with Harry Dean Stanton). Good actors, all of them, funny and talented, and worthy of some faith. And then I go inside and sit down, and lo and behold, the very first thing I hear is the voice of Persian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, a name that none of you will recognize until I tell you that she was the voice actress for Admiral Shala'Raan vas Tonbay in the Mass Effect series, and that I would accordingly recognize her voice anywhere. Thus re-assured by a good cast and a good voice actress, I settle down to watch what I hope will be a nice, heartwarming film.

Things Havoc disliked:  Ahem...


What the hell? What did I do? What crimes against humanity did I commit so as to karmically deserve this fate, I ask you all? What could I possibly have done to deserve to be lied to by a complete stranger and led into this grotesque, ultra-saccharine heart-stoppingly awful Hallmark-reject of a movie? Was I Hitler in a past life or something? Why has this befallen me?

I didn't ask for much here. I wasn't looking for high drama and poignant, Pixar-class emotionalism. All I wanted was a watchable film, something I could spend two hours beholding and walk away feeling better with myself for having done so. But what I received was, literally and without exaggeration, the single sappiest thing I have ever seen. Worse than the Disney sequels, worse than Toy Story 3, worse than A Dog of Flanders, worse than the goddamn Christmas Shoes. This movie was so bad that I had to take bathroom breaks during parts of it to avoid contracting diabetes from the sheer, nauseating levels of saccharine being force-fed down my throat by means of terrible acting and worse writing.

First things first, I am done with Jennifer Garner. Yes, she's been in the occasional good film, but I cannot stand the high-strung manic mode of acting that she seems to bring to every damn role she takes that isn't Alias. And given that here, she somehow managed to trump Elecrta as both her worst performance and worst film, I feel entirely justified. Her counterpart, Joel Edgerton, has a resume whose highlights include the remake of the Thing, and the Star Wars Prequels. His character, unlike Garner's, is supposed to be reasonable, a laughable claim when he is called upon, early on in the film to hang up on a 911 operator and lie to the police so as to conceal a child, which the movie establishes, he believes at this point to be a runaway.

And speaking of the child, the titular Timothy, played by CJ Adams, has the unenviable quality of being a stand-in for Jesus. The premise of the film is that the parents bury a list of all the qualities their perfect child should have, and the resulting magic produces Timothy, which means, definitionally, that Timothy is a perfect, flawless child derived literally from hopes and dreams. I don't object to a child-character with a good heart, but the movie is written in such a schmaltzy, direct manner that there's just no character to Timothy at all. We are told (and shown) that he has leaves growing out of his legs, and that there is some connection between these leaves and his "role" here on Earth, but nothing further, leaving us to wonder if he is some sort of angel. This wonder lasts precisely twelve seconds before the movie sends us into a diabetic coma and we lose all powers of thought, which given everything, may be a mercy.

There is literally no Hallmark-channel movie-of-the-week cliche that this film does not rob. Timothy's father (Edgerton) works at a pencil factory (har har), run by Ron Livingston (who has come full circle, and now plays Lumberg from Office Space) and which may close. His mother works at the pencil museum for Diane West, who is stern. He is picked on at school by Ron Livingston's kids. His grandfather (Morse) does not respect his father and they are estranged. There is a shy girl with a birthmark at school who is afraid to let it be seen. If you are at all questioning whether Timothy, the little saint, will miraculously resolve all of these issues with the magical power of earnestness and sunshine, then you are the sort of person who should see this movie and revel in its unexpected twists. Everyone else will probably be rolling their eyes the fifteenth time that we cut away to Garner and Edgerton talking about how wonderful Timothy is and how amazing his ability to solve everything makes them feel.

Independent of the film's message and style however, the thing is just incompetently done. Scenes of rain falling are obviously looped and run backwards to pad them out in the hope that nobody will notice. A subplot concerning water rationing is brought up and then dropped unceremoniously at around the 20 minute mark when the film's attention wanders off. Much time is given to some "revolutionary" (there are not enough quotation marks to put around that word) idea for a "new pencil" (same) that Timothy "inspires" (again) with his "wisdom" (kill me), all without ever giving us the slightest idea what the new pencil is, how it works, or what's so revolutionary about it. Finally, the framing story of the movie (the parents telling this story to an adoption agent), while it did give me a chance to think about Mass Effect for a while (the agent is played by Aghdashloo), leads me to wonder why, five minutes into the story, the adoption agent in question did not call security into the room to arrest these two people on suspicion of kidnapping, fraud, and reckless endangerment. Seriously, how did this child materialize out of nowhere and live with these two people for months, attending public schools, hospitals, and soccer camp, without anyone ever asking where he came from?! No birth certificate, no medical records, no adoption papers, he simply appears without warning in these people's lives and nobody, police, school officials, doctors or otherwise, so much as bats an eye!

Final thoughts:  Yes, yes, yes, I know! I know this is all parable and fairy tales and nobody asks these perfectly logical questions because we are living in a land of happiness and rainbows. I get it. I just don't want it. I said this was the sappiest movie I've ever seen and I meant it goddammit. Warhorse has nothing on this piece of high-fructose-corn-syrup. That said, yes, I appreciate that not every movie has to be ultra-realistic, and I do, generally, prefer that a movie err on the side of happiness and light than on the side of grim-dark brooding assholery. But this movie was so bad that it was actually painful to sit through, so bad that I can remember only one scene that generally worked.

Good intentions can only get you so far, ultimately. In the end, you have to present a movie worth watching. And this one just ain't.

Final Score:  2.5/10

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