Writer-director Peter Hedges makes wacky magic in The Odd Life of Timothy Green
BEVERLY HILLS—Peter Hedges feels things deeply. He shakes hands with most of his interviewers, and he affectionately hugs a writer from the Georgia Straight, though they have never met before. Speaking in a Beverly Hills hotel room about his new movie, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, the writer-director often looks as though he might tear up. Of course, working in Hollywood probably makes a lot of people cry.
But this is real. Or at least the emotions are real. The Odd Life of Timothy Green (which opens on August 17), on the other hand, features a child who has leaves sprouting from his calves. It is a fantasy with some kookiness, some sadness, and much heartfelt meaning for Hedges and, he hopes, audiences.
“I wanted to make a substantial film that was about the things that most plague and challenge me and the people in my life— you know, how do we raise our children?” Hedges says. “How do we get out of the way of our kids so they can become who they’re supposed to be and not who we want them to be?”
In Timothy Green, another question might be: besides buying him knee socks, how do you raise a leafy 10-year-old who simply pops up one night? Unable to conceive the old-fashioned way, Cindy (Jennifer Garner) and Jim Green (Joel Edgerton) write down the qualities they want in a child, bury the list in the garden, and, during a thunderstorm, Timothy (C. J. Adams) appears, muddy but ready to call them Mom and Dad.
Maybe it’s the sort of idea that only comes while washing one’s hair. Or maybe it’s that Zappa DNA. “Ahmet basically said, ‘I was in the shower. I came up with this,’ ” Hedges says, speaking of writer-producer Ahmet Zappa, son of Frank and brother of Moon Unit, Dweezil, and Diva. Hedges—who wrote About a Boy, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, and Dan in Real Life (which he also directed)—took that magic Zappa seed and grew a script.
“If it could do what all of the films that I keep going back to [do],” Hedges says, “Harold and Maude, Tender Mercies, It’s a Wonderful Life, E.T., films I go back to over again and again are those films that make me feel so…glad I’m alive.”
Hedges, Zappa, and producer Scott Sanders brainstormed at Hedges’s beach house. “We just dreamt up stuff, wacky stuff like, uh, you know, Ms. Crudstaff [Cindy’s boss, played by Dianne Wiest] could have a mustache. Well, she ended up having a beard.” Perhaps they were under the influence? “No, I don’t drink,” Hedges says. “I don’t drink.”
Even famous self-destructive artists can inspire a magical tale with both “an ache in it” and comedy. “It was Van Gogh, ironically, who wrote to his brother—and let’s not think about how Van Gogh ends. Forget about how Van Gogh ended. You know, it didn’t end well.” No, not exactly.
“But he said, you know, ‘Speak sincerely and all will go well.’ And so I just tried to make a sincere film,” one reflecting “the power of love. And I know that’s not cool and it’s not hip, but I’ve never been very cool.”
Watch the trailer for The Odd Life of Timothy Green.