At the office of U.S. Adoption Services, Jim (Joel Edgerton) and Cindy Green (Jennifer Garner) sit, facing their case worker Ms. Onat (Shohreh Aghdashloo). She looks over their adoption forms, and asks why the section, “What qualifies you to be adoptive parents?” is blank. They tell her that they need to use their appointment time to tell her their story, and the story of Timothy, even though she may not believe it. They begin… One year ago, they were given the bad news that they would not be able to have children. Deeply sad, they went home. Cindy is heard crying in the nursery, and Jim waits for her outside. She comes out and says she is moving on. She watches TV, but Jim says he isn’t ready to move on. He starts describing the kid he’d want to have, and writes each characteristic on a slip of paper. Cindy joins in, and the list begins: He’d have Cindy's good heart, would never give up, would be funny, honest, artistic—“Picasso with a pencil," forgiving, musical, love and be loved and that once, he’d score the winning goal. They place the papers in a wood box, silently go outside in the garden, and bury it. Resolved, they go to bed.
While they are asleep, a terrible storm kicks up, with thunder and lightning. The garden is saturated, and with a huge crack of lightening, Jim and Cindy wake up. Jim heard a sound; the back door was flapping in the wind. He fixes it, and then sees their wedding photo on the floor, with mud on it. Then they hear music, and it is coming from the nursery. They carefully open the door, and inside is a little boy, covered with mud. He says “hi." Jim calls the police, but when he hears the boy say his name is Timothy (CJ Adams)—he stops. Jim and Cindy had a list of 54 girl names and just one boy name, Timothy, if she had gotten pregnant. Jim and Cindy are shocked, thrilled and elated; Cindy asks Jim if she thinks Timothy is for them…and he says yes. They tell him that he can call them “Cindy and Jim” or “Mr. and Mrs. Green," but he just laughs and asks "why?" He’d prefer to call them “Mom and Dad." Cindy offers to run Timothy a bath. As she helps him dry off, she notices something most peculiar: he has green leaves growing from his ankles.
In the morning, Cindy’s sister Brenda (Rosemarie DeWitt) pounds on the front door, waking Jim, Cindy, and Timothy. They had forgotten about the family get-together at their house, and overslept. Cindy puts some of Jim’s clothes on Timothy, covers his leaves with big socks, and tells him that since it is his first time meeting everyone, he shouldn’t say too much. Timothy is delightful, and wins over everyone in the family. He is charming, if atypical, for a 10 year old boy. A girls rides by on her bike, and stares at the family. Timothy stares back at her, and then she rides off. Jim’s dad, “Big Jim” (David Morse) is a tough guy, and plays dodgeball with all the kids, and systematically pegs each one of them. Jim gets after him when he knocks Timothy down. The next day, Cindy takes Timothy to see her friend, Reggie (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a botanist. He can’t explain the leaves on Timothy’s ankles, but thinks they are marvelous and fascinating. He tries to cut one off, but it won’t cut.
Timothy is enrolled at school; Cindy goes overboard packing his backpack. Jim tells him to have a good day, but Cindy stops him, saying that is too much pressure—Jim amends his farewell, “have the day you’ll have…” They each go to work. Cindy works at the Crudstaff Museum, as a tour guide and assistant to cranky Ms. Crudstaff (Dianne Wiest). Jim works at the town pencil factory, which was founded by the Crudstaffs. The mill is having hard times, and Jim’s boss Franklin (Ron Livingston) mentions there may be layoffs.
Cindy gets a call from the school--some boys put ice cream all over Timothy, and he won’t say who did it. He finally does, and it is Franklin’s sons. Wanting to be a good dad, Jim takes Timothy over to his house, and demands an apology. Franklin is a smart-aleck and thinks Timothy is a weenie for ratting out his kids. His wife feels badly and invites Timothy to a pool party they are having in a week.
At the party, Timothy stands on the diving board, with his yellow socks on, and kids think he is strange. The girl on the bike is there, and they stare at each other. Timothy begins to bounce and jumps off the board into the pool, and sinks to the bottom, and sits there. The girl watches while everyone else is eating and opening presents, and finally dives in to save Timothy. She sees his leaves, and Timothy reflexively kicks out, and lands a kick to her nose. She is angry and swims off. Later, she wants him to see something. She has a red birthmark on her chest and tells him that he isn’t the only person to have a secret.
The two become friends, and bike, climb, hike, and explore together. Cindy is worried that he is spending too much time with this girl. The 2 kids lay down in the sun, and when he pulls down his sock, a leaf falls off. It has started to turn colors. Uncle Bub (M. Emmet Walsh) is in the hospital; the family rushes to his bedside. They all visit, and then he asks to spend some 1-on-1 time with Timothy. The two talk and laugh, and Cindy and Jim smile. Another leaf falls from Timothy’s leg.
Jim signs Timothy up for soccer. Coach Cal (Common) is unimpressed, but Jim vows to practice with Timothy so that he’ll be good enough to play for the team, The Erasers. As they practice, the parents ask him about the girl he spends so much time with. He tells them her name is Joni (Odeya Rush). Jim tells Timothy he had a crush on a girl when he was his age…and he married her.
At work, Franklin calls Jim in; the layoffs are happening, and Jim has to let everyone go. It costs too much to keep making pencils, and the entire plant may close. Jim is down at dinner, so Timothy and Cindy bring out indoor s’mores, and they have a picnic, eat, and talk. Timothy asks if they can come up with an idea for a new kind of pencil, one that might be easier to manufacture. Not wanting to disappoint their son, Jim and Cindy throw themselves into the project, and make a pencil that is almost entirely made of leaves.
Soon it is “Take Your Kid To Work Day” and Cindy takes Timothy with her. Cranky Ms. Crudstaff is unimpressed and makes small talk. She shows Timothy her newly commissioned portrait for the museum and explains that it was at great expense. Timothy tells her he would have done it for free. So, she challenges him, and he sketches her beautifully and accurately. A bit too accurate, as he adds her chin hair, and she is insulted. When Cindy sees how beautiful his sketch is, she muses, “Picasso with a Pencil." Cindy tells off Ms. Crudstaff after being so tolerant all these years, and she is fired. At the factory, Jim thinks of Timothy, and how he said, “anything is possible," and takes to new pencil into Franklin, and pitches it. Franklin gets on the phone and shares the idea. It might save their jobs and the plant.
It is Timothy’s 1st soccer game. Coach Cal refuses to let Timothy play. He isn’t bothered, and seems to enjoy just hanging out and getting water for everyone. Big Jim comes to watch, and when he sees his grandson isn’t playing, he leaves, which infuriates Jim. After the game, they rake leaves, and can tell there is something Timothy isn’t telling them.
Timothy and Joni spend more time together, and Cindy is worried. She follows her home one day and tells her that they need to talk—she doesn’t think she is a very good influence on her son. Joni leads her into the woods…and shows her this beautiful space they have made, with handmade vines and mobiles and tapestries. Cindy realizes she was wrong. Joni tells her that he’s different, and she won’t let anyone hurt him.
Another soccer game, and Timothy still isn’t playing. Brenda is bragging how talented her kids are, and Cindy finally adds that Timothy is musical. A week later, Brenda’s family has their annual concert. At the end, Brenda announces Timothy for the encore. He says sure, but Cindy and Jim look horrified. Timothy picks up a block and stick and bangs out a rhythm on it. No one knows what he is doing. Jim jumps up and starts singing, “Low Rider” to Timothy’s beats, as it kind of goes. Then Cindy jumps up and joins, and the 3 of them jam. When they go home, they are happy that they had fun, and think their son rocks. When they tuck him in, he pulls another leaf from his ankle; this one is brown.
Jim and Cindy just know that Timothy will play, because they wrote that he’d score the winning goal on one of the original slips of paper. Coach won’t put him in, but when a player gets injured, he is forced to. He tells Timothy not to move from that spot, and just stand still. The teams are tied, 1-1. Jim tells him to run, and go and play. Joni rides up on her bike, holding a big piece of cardboard. She turns it around to read, “I am with “0” (which is Timothy’s jersey number). He smiles, and then plays. He is doing fantastic, and kicks an amazing goal as the time runs out…and scores for the other team. Franklin and the other parents are shocked that they lost. They go to the soccer team dinner in the school, and Timothy sees Joni and they leave together. Jim and Cindy go to spy. They see the two talk, hug, and Joni leaves, looking sad. They ask what happened, and he tells them that he had to let her go. When he gets home, he takes off his soccer gear and more leaves fall.
There is a town meeting, and everyone is agitated, hearing the closing rumors. The owner says that they were going to close, but with the new pencil invented by Franklin, the plant can stay open and they all keep their jobs. Timothy speaks up, that Franklin is stealing credit for the pencil, and that Cindy and Jim invented it. Ms. Crudstaff asks Franklin how he got the idea, and he doesn’t have much to say. Then she asks Cindy and Jim, and they explain about Timothy’s leaves. Reggie speaks up, saying he’s seen them, and they are magnificent. He shows them to the crowd. Ms. Crudstaff explains that if he can have leaves on his ankle, they can make a new pencil—get to work!
It's a stormy night as they drive home, and Timothy tells them that they need to get inside. They ask him what is wrong. He explains that he didn’t say anything sooner, because there wasn’t anything that could be done. When his leaves go, he goes, too. They ask when, and he says, “Now. I lose my leaves and move on." They all hug and cry, and a loud crack of lightning strikes, and the lights go out. They look, and Timothy is gone. They go outside in the pouring rain, and dig in the garden; they find the box. Inside is a letter. Ms. Onat asks what was in the letter, and she reads it. She gives it back, and leaves.
Timothy’s voice narrates, “Dear Mom and Dad,” and explains that as he lived, he gave his leaves away as needed. He gave one to Aunt Brenda, one to Big Jim, One to Uncle Bub, one to Mrs. Crudstaff, one to Reggie, and 2 to Joni. He also explained that if there are 2 people in the world who want you, then anything is possible. Jim and Cindy are in the yard, and a car pulls up. Mrs. Onat gets out…with a little girl. She introduces her to Cindy and Jim, and they tell her that she can call them whatever she wants. The three of them walk into their house, together.
- Jennifer Garner as Cindy Green
- Joel Edgerton as Jim Green
- CJ Adams as Timothy Green. Adams was chosen to be cast as the titular role after working with Hedges in Dan in Real Life.
- Ron Livingston as Franklin Crudstaff
- Rosemarie DeWitt as Brenda Best
- Dianne Wiest as Ms. Crudstaff
- Kryshaon Avery as Shelly Jones
- Michael Arden as Doug Wert
- Lois Smith as Aunt Mel
- Rhoda Griffis as Dr. Lesley Hunt
- Sharon Morris as Principal
- Odeya Rush as Joni Jerome
- Jason Davis as Bart Best
- Lin-Manuel Miranda as Reggie
- M. Emmet Walsh as Uncle Bub
- David Morse as James Green Sr.
- Steve Coulter as Charlie Frohn
- Tim Ware as Mayor Handleman
- Michael Beasley as Cop #1
- Cullen Moss as Cop #2
- Common as Coach Cal
- James Rebhorn as Joseph Crudstaff
- Shohreh Aghdashloo as Evette Onat
In June 2009, Peter Hedges was signed to write and direct The Odd Life of Timothy Green, a film that stemmed from an idea brought about by Ahmet Zappa. The film is one of the first films produced by Scott Sanders Productions after a deal with the Walt Disney Studios was made in 2007.
Disney released a teaser trailer on August 11, 2011. The first official trailer was released on May 10, 2012 and was shown prior to screenings of Brave, Ted, and Total Recall.
Walt Disney Records released Geoff Zanelli's score from the soundtrack on August 14, 2012, the day before the film's release.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green was met with a mixed reception. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 40% of 91 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 5.5 out of 10, offering the consensus: "It means well, but The Odd Life of Timothy Green is ultimately too cloyingly sentimental—and thinly scripted—to satisfy all but the least demanding viewers." Mary Pols of Time wrote, "This is a movie about old-time values, a movie with Frank Capra aspirations. But Timothy’s life, his very conception by Zappa and Hedges, is definitely more odd than wonderful." Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, praised the film's art direction and cast, "It's an elegant, honeyed production, photographed (in Georgia) by cinematographer John Toll, and it's full of interesting actors." However, he differed on the script saying, "this fable of the gifted child doesn't go for the throat as it goes about its odd business." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times was more enthusiastic in his 3-1/2 star review, calling it "a warm and lovely fantasy... on a picture-postcard farm in the middle of endlessly rolling hills where it is always Indian Summer."
The film had a $2.3 million debut on August 15. It made $7.68 million in three days and finished the weekend off with $16,377,472 domestically. The film has grossed $51,854,875 in North America. It ranks 17th among movies that never hit the top 5 all-time.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green was released by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment on Blu-ray and DVD on December 4, 2012.
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