August 14, 2012

‘Odd Life’ shares sweet family tale

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Movies at 6:01 pm by dinaheng

“The Odd Life of Timothy Green” is a sweet fairy tale about family and parenthood from novelist Peter Hedges (“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”), who also directs the Disney film that stars Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton as a happily married couple longing for a child they’ve been told they cannot have.

One stormy night, a charming boy named Timothy (played by CJ Adams) shows up in the couple’s house, covered with mud and brimming with innocence. The three become an instant family, teaching each other — and the small town of Stanleyville — some interesting lessons about life along the way.

“I hope audiences will get the feelings I get when I see ‘E.T.,’ ‘It’s A Wonderful Life,’ or ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ “ says Hedges, who also directed “Pieces of April” and “Dan in Real Life.” “We only have so much time as parents. We’re not going to be perfect. But if we love and live, so much is possible.

“I heard a crew member say one day that the thing about being a parent is that you’re hired as their manager, then they fire you. If you’re lucky, they rehire you as a consultant. Making this film made me more willing to let my kids go. I’m more capable now of letting them lead me to who they want to be, as opposed to me trying to shape them.”

Hedges wrote the “Odd Life” screenplay from an original story by producer Ahmet Zappa. While the magical idea of a child coming out of a garden with leaves on his ankles is endearing and sweet, the storytelling here falls short. While we see snippets of family life and familiar characters (the sister who always outshines you, the boss who nobody likes), there’s no discernible theme that plays through.

It isn’t until the director explains what he intended with the symbolism of the leaves that a clearer picture of Timothy’s role in these people’s lives emerges. Even then, it’s hard to see what affect the little boy had on some of the supporting characters.

Suffice to say, the real gift in this film lies in the chemistry between Garner, Edgerton and Adams, who clearly bonded as a family unit.

“We auditioned 1,000 kids, and some of the finest child actors we have came in for the role,” Hedges says. “But the character Timothy requires a unique kid — someone who possesses innate wisdom, but isn’t obnoxious; who is smart, but not snobby.

“I was looking for the male Abigail Breslin, and was reluctant to cast CJ at first because he’d been in “Dan in Real Life’ and I thought he didn’t have enough experience. But with each callback, CJ took another step and another. By the third callback, I knew he could be Timothy.”

Adams, now 12, steals every scene he’s in with a face that embodies the innocence, joy, and pain of childhood. He’s never taken an acting class, and says he just has fun pretending to be someone else.

“What I liked best about playing Timothy is that he gets to be so nice to other people,” Adams says. “I like being a nice person who cares for others, so it’s easy to put myself in his head and become that person. Remembering lines can be hard, but it gets natural when you’re with really good actors and go with the flow.”

CJ, by the way, stands for Cameron John.

“CJ sounds cool, you know, instead of Cameron,” Adams says, twisting like a rock star.

The whole acting thing started six years ago when his older brother, who was interested in acting, asked if CJ would like to be in a movie (“Dan in Real Life”). Adams auditioned, got the part, “and now I’m in the movie business,” he explains. “My brother does lacrosse and doesn’t want to be in acting anymore.”

As for working on “Odd Life,” Adams says the hardest scene to film was the one in which Timothy gets plastered with food by his classmates.

“The food dried in my hair, and I had to pull it out in the shower,” he says. “Also the mud scene. With that one, I was always in the corner, and to get continuity, they had to do it over and over. But the mud was clean dirt.”

And where does he think Timothy came from?

“I think he came from the garden,” he says, with twinkling eyes. “His parents said what his personality would be like… and he was a gift from God.”

When he’s not on set, Adams likes to play soccer, multiplayer video games, and chill with friends. As for what it’s like being a child actor…

“It’s not that you don’t go to school,” he notes. “If you’re on set, you have to go to school at least three hours a day. I want everyone to know I’m not different from other people. I’m not snotty. I try to be as normal as anyone else. I’m not perfect. And I live in Rhode Island, so I like the Patriots.”

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