'The Odd Life of Timothy Green' struggles to find right tone
The 90s are back with a vengeance, but some parts of the apparently beloved decade belong right back there. Case in point: the classic 90s magical family movie.
Disney's latest, ‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green’, plays heavily on the visual and musical cues that children of the 90s may recognise from films like ‘The Santa Claus’ and even ‘Hocus Pocus’.
The problem is that the film opens that door without fully walking through it. The Jennifer-Garner starrer rests in a nebulous place between wacky, contemporary comedy and a nostalgic throwback. But it can't be both.
Centred on the unfortunate, reproductively-challenged couple, Jim and Cindy Green (a perfectly adequate Joel Edgerton and Garner), the film follows the duo as they give up on having kids and spend a night with a bottle of wine, writing down their won't-be child's perfect characteristics with a good old pencil and paper (pay attention now, because that pencil part is pretty important).
They bury the papers in a box in Cindy's perfectly-kept garden, and while they sleep, the box sprouts into a little boy - their little boy, only with a few leaves on his legs since he grew out of the ground, after all.
This part of the story, combined with the film's obvious affinity for the good old days as evidenced by the Greens' home town and its dependence on a classic pencil factory, lends itself to that nostalgic feeling.
These gratuitous and tonally dissonant moments throw us back out of our reveries and into an uncomfortable space.
Both Cindy and Jim have what should be comically horrible bosses played by Diane Wiest and Ron Livingston, respectively.
But between Weist's mind-bogglingly goofy scene in which little Timothy paints her scraggly chin-hair and all, and Livingston's many off-colour moments - including one in which he instructs Jim to fire half the factory staff before lifting an over-sized "THE BOSS" mug to his face - are rather jarring in a film that is largely wistful.
Modern audiences demand these sorts of gags in their light-hearted movies. The problem is that it's up to the filmmakers to give us what we need, not what we want.
The story is largely melancholy throughout, as Timothy's fate is betrayed in the first two minutes of the film.
While some levity is necessary, the moments of light need only to come from the film's main light source: the wonderful little boy at the centre of the story.
Ultimately, Timothy's sweetness and Garner's incomparable ability to create a lovable, albeit neurotic mother save the film and allow for an emotionally satisfying end to the family tale.
There are just far too many bumps along the way.
Star Rating: 2½