In small town Stanleyville, a happily married couple struggles to have the child they’ve always dreamed about. But when a small boy appears in their humble home, dirty and disheveled, their world, and that of the town, will never be the same in “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.”
Cindy Green (Jennifer Garner) works in a historic mansion for an uptight millionaire. Jim Green (Joel Edgerton) works for Stanleyville Pencil Factory and faces being laid off. Their working conditions aren’t ideal, but the main strain in their life comes from the fact that all childbearing options have dissipated. One evening they fill out all the characteristics of their perfect child on scrapes of paper, put it in a wood box and bury it in their yard. After a hard rain, a child they name Timothy (CJ Adams) magically arrives.
“The Odd Life of Timothy Green” is written and directed by Peter Hedges (“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “Pieces of April”) from a story by Ahmet Zappa.
“Whenever Peter makes a movie or writes a book, he has something to say, he has a lot of things to say,” Garner said. “He’s such a smart guy and such a passionate man, and you can really see that in his writing ... and writing is the thing that I’m drawn to first and foremost. Obviously, we all fall for a good script. But his writing has something, some extra juice to it.”
Even with brutal and often violent films like the Australian mob drama “Animal Kingdom” and the boxing film “Warrior” that he has starred in, Edgerton said they have the same theme about the importance of family and what it means to be part of a family.
“Whether I’ve got a gun in my hand or I’m punching someone in the face, or whether I’m cuddling a child, sometimes the movies can be more similar than they first appear,” Edgerton said.
Adams, 12, who had worked with Hedges on his only other film, “About a Boy,” said he had to look at Timothy in a “different kind of way” when he first read the script.
“When I first heard of him, I kind of thought him as a gift from God, like, he sent down Timothy to teach these people to have children, to start another life,” Adams said.
Hedges said he took Zappa’s story as a jumping off point, but he looked at his own family that had a “lot of heartbreak in it” as a template for not only his earlier films, mostly that were about struggling families, but for “Timothy Green” as well.
“This was about a family, a couple, who want what comes so easily to most people, is to be able to have a child, and they couldn’t,” Hedges said. “I know people, people very close to me, who haven’t been able to have kids and I’ve watched them bankrupt themselves trying to get pregnant. I’ve watched them happily adopt in many cases. In some cases, I’ve watched them so torn up, apart from what they had to try to endure to try to have a child biologically, that then when they went to adopt, they were asked so many questions, and they were put through so much scrutiny, that they threw up their hands and said,
‘No. We’ll get a cat.’”
This “sweet” and “gentle” film became a challenge, especially finding the right tone, according to the cast.
“A lot of people say, “Oh, this is a very gentle movie,” and I think, “Well, in a way those things are, are more challenging, because what Peter’s striving to do is make a movie where the chest cavity is just opened, like, you can see the heart,” Edgerton said. “And the risk is that it becomes too cheesy or corny. But the benefits are that you really feel something, and you really go home with something because it makes you just bring your own life to it. I love that.”
“Whenever a movie, you feel like, ‘Oh, this is a sweet comedy kind of thing,’ you end up crying more on those movies than if it was the biggest tragedy in the world,” Garner added, “I mean, you could play Lady Macbeth and not have to be as emotional as in a sweet little comedy. This was definitely an example of that. We did some digging, for this, for sure, and had a lot of conversations about balancing it so that it wasn’t just ... people blubbering on screen the whole time, and just kind of making sure that it was full emotionally and didn’t go too far, which usually means performance-wise. You get there, you go too far, and then in the editing process, you figure out where it is that you want to hit those notes. In my opinion, Peter did a pretty great job of balancing all that out.”
The veteran cast had universal praise for Adams, who was 10 years old when they filmed “Timothy,” who had to deal with mud and warm shooting days.
“CJ has the kind of magic that Timothy Green has,” Garner said. “He seems like he’s from another planet. And he seems to kind of have been plopped down here with his eyes wide open and his heart wide open. I can’t imagine another little boy playing that role. I, we all fell so totally in love with CJ.”
“Joel was so gifted with CJ right from the beginning, that they had their own relationship before CJ and I did,” Garner added, “CJ and I became incredibly close, but right away he was enamored with Joel. Joel with a soccer bowl, with magic tricks, with, you know, he’s a guy.”
Edgerton called Adams a “great kid” and “easy to like” and he became protective of him, a “kid in this big machine,” even with the kid’s parents on set all the time. The “inquisitive” Adams would come to them for advice
“He’s incredibly charming, but he really looked up to me in a way that I found flattering and confusing, you know, like, he, I think it’s amazing how children can really kind of worship you in a way that makes you go, ‘Well,’ look at yourself and go, ‘Am I really that amazing? And how can I be more amazing?’”
Edgerton added, “But there’s an incredible responsibility when you cast a child in a movie. It’s not really my responsibility, it’s the director and producer’s responsibility. That child is then in your life for life. And you can’t just pick them up, put them in your movie, and then throw them away. As we’ve all seen in, in, in five, ten years’ time, it becomes ... what’s gonna happen to this kid? ‘Cause too much attention at a young age can be problematic, which is where the good parenting comes in, I think, too.”
Hedges new Adams was a “standout kid” when they worked together on “Dan in Real Life,” but he hadn’t seen him since making that film.
“When I heard he was coming in, because he hadn’t done anything since ‘Dan in Real Life,’ and I thought, ‘Well, no way is he gonna beat out these kids, but I’m so excited to see him.‘ His first audition was pretty good, and good enough to call him back. And each time he came back, he just got better and better and then that one time happened, he did a scene, and I just turned to my casting director and was, I couldn’t believe it.
Hedges added, “When I cast him, I had a good cry, because I thought, ‘Is this gonna ruin his life?’ I mean, there are kids, and there are families that don’t know how to handle this. And, it’s too soon to tell, but I think when you experience him, he’s a special guy. I only want good for him.”
Adams also had strong praise for his costars.
“He (Edgerton) taught me a couple cool magic tricks, but working with him was the best, because he would always crack a joke between a scene, and he would always stick up for me, like, cover my back, and if I’m in trouble or anything like that, because he’s big and tough,” Adams said.
Adams added, “She (Garner) is so sweet. It’s, like, indescribable. Like whenever I see her down the hallway, I’d give her a hug. We’d say hi and talk. And, when she acted, she was so good at acting that it made me feel comfortable when I was acting with her. Because, I’d be stuttering on a line, she would act, she would go, with the flow, so it made me feel really comfortable when I acted with her.”
Garner said that she hasn’t had any fertility issues (having three children in the past 6-plus years) but she could relate to the “longing and relate to how much once you’re ready for a baby you are really ready right then, and you have this enormous fear that it isn’t gonna work.” Garner said she became pregnant with her third child (their first son) two months after finishing filming “Timothy.” Her husband, Ben Affleck, flew to Atlanta to be “Mr. Mom” when Garner was filming “Timothy.” Between her husband’s busy film career that has taken off since he became a director, her acting career and children, it has been a challenging juggling act.
“I feel lucky to work whenever I get to work,” Garner said. “I really, really value it now in a different way than I ever have. I really feel like I am getting something back from it. It feeds a part of me that I didn’t realize I needed to take care of before, and now I really don’t take a job unless there’s something in it that I need to do. And that is just not that often.”
While the film does deal with issues like infertility and a bad economy, and with real people, but, according to Edgerton, it is a fable sprinkled with a “magic dust.”
“Peter wanted to make a movie that you would come back and watch over and over again, you know, in the same way that I like to watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ over and over again,” Edgerton said. “You know, it’s those movies ... like ‘Big’ and ‘Splash,’ and all those sort of movies, they say so much about what’s going on emotionally for people within these families.”
Edgerton added, “What I really love about this story, though, is that these stories used to break my heart, and I call them the ‘happy cry movies,’ is that, it’s that thing when a kind of a mystical stranger kind of rides into town, changes everybody around a little bit and their thinking, and then inevitably, they have to go. It’s the going that’s really sad. But it’s what they’ve left behind that, is really special.”
The Odd Life of Timothy Green details:
Release date: August 15
Production company: Scott Sanders Production, Monsterfoot Productions
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Official website: www.disney.go.com/the-odd-life-of-timothy-green
Cast and Crew of The Odd Life of Timothy Green:
Starring Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, CJ Adams, Odeya Rush, Ron Livingston, Dianne Wiest, Common, Rosemarie DeWitt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, M. Emmet Walsh and Lois Smith
Directed By: Peter Hedges
Written By: Peter Hedges
Produced By: Ahmet Zappa, Scott Sanders, Jim Whitaker and Mara Jacobs