’The Odd Life of Timothy Green’ :: Growing Up, Fitting In
In "The Odd Life of Timothy Green," a couple (played by Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner) give up on conceiving a child after a long, futile struggle. To give themselves closure, they indulge in a therapeutic gesture: writing down the attributes of the kind of child they would want to have raised. They place the slips of paper in a box and bury it in their backyard garden, among the rows of organic vegetables.
After a freaky thunderstorm, the couple finds a 10-year old boy (newcomer CJ Adams in the title role) in their house, speaking perfect English and knowing his purpose in their lives. The catch? The boy has leaves that grow out of his shins and ankles, which cannot be removed by force. Nonetheless the overnight parents raise the boy proudly in spite of his oddities. Yet they become over-protective, making him wear knee-length socks to hide the leaves, which could well be the first of many mistakes they make as parents.
Coming from Walt Disney Pictures, "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" is an accessible and heartwarming family film. At the same time, though, it is a bittersweet, cautionary tale for anyone that wants to become a parent. Variety’s Peter Debruge says this "inspirational parenting tale from writer-director Peter Hedges plays like ’Mary Poppins’ in reverse, where the caregivers are the constant and a very special kid breezes into their lives for just one season."
The film is set in imaginary Stanleyville, a postcard-perfect New England-like town, known as "the pencil-making capital of the world," that is suffering economically (much like America today). Against this backdrop, Timothy must learn to fit in, despite his "oddness," and deal with parents not really equipped for the child-rearing.
The man behind this tale is Peter Hedges, whose film career started when his novel "Who’s Eating Gilbert Grape" was adapted into a career-turning movie for Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio. Hedges subsequently wrote "About A Boy," another story that provided an insight to the life of an awkward teen. Hedges then moved on to write and direct the honest comedy "Pieces of April" with Katie Holmes and Patricia Clarkson, and the widow-with-kids romantic laugh-fest "Dan In Real Life" with Steve Carell and Juliette Binoche.
Playing the unexpected father of Timothy Green is Joel Edgerton, a role that is something of a change of pace after edgy Hollywood films like the underrated "Warrior" and the prequel/remake of "The Thing." The intense and charismatic Edgerton will be seen next year in the movie adaptation of "The Great Gatsby" helmed by fellow countryman, visionary Australian director Baz Lurhmann.
EDGE talked to Hedges and Edgerton about bringing to this tale of magical realism to the screen.
A personal story?
EDGE: Peter, as a parent, how personal is this story to you?
Peter Hedges: It is as personal as anything that I have made except perhaps for ’Pieces of April.’ It’s about family, it’s about parenting, it’s about kids. As parents, my wife and I are doing the best we can. But as parents, you feel that you fail a lot -- you make a lot of mistakes. This (movie) feels like an opportunity to explore that and take some of my bigger failings and have some fun with them.
Also, I have known many people who want to have kids but are not able to. It is such a privilege to be a parent and such a responsibility. To be able to make a film that dealt with the mess of parenting, the heartbreak and the joys, would be a great gig. And that turned out to be true.
EDGE: Joel, where do you draw the inspiration to play this father of a young boy?
Joel Edgerton: I always hope that I can just dive into the script and within the pages are all the things I need to know about the character that I need to play and the world I am going to live in. Beyond that, you have thoughts and explorations in other ways. But I love it when a script can give me most of the answers. Life is great research for this story because we are all children. We all have parents. We all know what it is like to be in a family, love it or hate it, or crave or miss certain elements of family. My research is my life really.
EDGE: Has making this film changed your views about parenthood?
Joel Edgerton: A little bit. To be honest, it really made me think about my father and our relationship. In the film, I have Big Jim (the father or my character), who is the big looming shadow who does not say much or appreciate me. I feel like, within the film, my character is living his life, like a little boy desperately waving a flag, saying ’Dad, Dad, look at me, please! Why don’t you look at me?’
I really relate to that. Not because my father would never look at me or give me words of encouragement or pride. He is more proud of me than I could ever tell you in words; but as a child, sometimes, your interpretation of your own experience is different (from the reality). I am sitting here talking to you, because I am an actor, and the reason I am an actor is because I really wanted my dad to look at me.
Peter Hedges: Making this film make me realize that I needed to get out of the way of my kids. I have teenagers. You do not want to get out of the way of a two-year old because you need to teach them how to go to the bathroom without a diaper, those kind of things; but when you have the kids that we have, I came to realize that I do not own them, they are not mine. Making the film reminded and clarified that children do not belong to us, but we belong to them.
EDGE: What would you consider to be the most difficult scene for you in this movie?
Joel Edgerton: There is a scene where Jennifer Garner and I get involved in a musical number that is started by CJ. I love music. I love listening to music. Unfortunately, I am not very good at participating in the making of music. While I love to do musical things, I would not subject anybody else to my musical abilities. In the movie, Peter asked Jennifer and I to get involved in a particular thing that I find very difficult to shoot, simply out of my insecurities.
"The Odd Life of Timothy Green" opens in theaters August 15.
Watch the trailer to "The Odd Life of Timothy Green":