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Sorry, Disney: Wishing a Child Into Existence Doesn’t Cure Infertility

Posted Jul 11 2012 5:42pm

I stumbled onto this little news tidbit today, buried in a post of various entertainment news dubbed “Morning Spoilers” at io9.com:

Here’s a TV spot for the upcoming Disney movie in which Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner can’t have children, so they bury a box with their description of the perfect child, and then said child magically appears out of the ground. I’m going to assume there’s a good logical reason given why this was a more straightforward approach than, you know, just adopting a kid. ( Source )

Ha ha ha… wait, what?!

Behold – The Odd Life of Timothy Green:

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

I was a bit dubious on the premise, so I went searching for the full-length trailer on YouTube. It would appear that io9′s description of the film is actually spot on:

There’s a lot in this trailer that rings painfully familiar for anyone who’s ever experienced infertility, particularly the shot of the doctor sliding a medical chart towards the shell-shocked Garner and Edgerton, telling them: “We have explored every medical option; you couldn’t have tried any harder.”

So naturally they go home, get drunk and start brainstorming all the qualities and details about the child they’ll never have. To be fair, this isn’t that unhealthy of an activity. I’ve done the same thing .

They take all their wishes and hopes and dreams for this child, lovingly place them in a box and tearfully bury it in their garden. “We’re moving on,” Garner’s character says in voiceover.

And then a 7-year old boy pops outta the ground and into their lives, spreading miracles and joy with that characteristic, one-of-a-kind Disney magic™. I’m calling it now: the movie ends with either the boy mysteriously vanishing, Garner’s character miraculously becoming pregnant, or some gloriously sappy combination of the two.

The first 30 seconds of the trailer and truly, the expositional premise for the entire film, seems to capitalize off of another Disney film that managed to capture the complex pain of infertility in just under four minutes: Pixar’s Up . To this day, I cannot watch the “Married Life” segment in the first 10 minutes of Up without bawling. (Need a cry? Click that link. The whole segment is there.)

But in the case of Timothy Green, it rings hollow; the couple’s infertility, however poignantly displayed in the trailer, serves merely as a convenient plot device to move forward this idea of a weird little kid that came out of the ground. I can almost picture the writers’ meeting now:

“So, there’s this adorable little boy and-”

“…and he comes out of the ground!”

“Yeah, yeah – that’s good! I like it. Kind of elfish…”

“Yes! And maybe he’s got little green leaves that stick out from his feet!”

“Brilliant! He touches the lives of everyone he meets and delights the hearts of all.”

“I love it. This is going to be our cash cow, I can just tell.”

“But – how do we introduce him? I mean, little boys don’t just come out of the ground. We’re not making My Little Golem, are we?”

“Hmm, good point. How about we make him the magical wish granted to a couple that can’t have kids?”

“Genius! I’ll call my agent.”

I’m a pretty big fan of Disney: films, brand, cruises, worlds, but I’m disappointed that they’ve taken what could have been an amazing opportunity to really shine a light onto infertility to family audiences in a way that could be compassionate, heartbreaking, and yet still uplifting – instead, they’ve made a movie that basically says, “If you wish hard enough, infertile people, you’ll magically get a kid.”

Not to be a bit of a buzzkill, but sorry, Disney – that doesn’t always happen. A dream might be a wish your heart makes, but they don’t always come true and last time I checked, the Genie was a free man now.

Harsh moment of truth time: for some people who experience infertility, they may never get to parent, no matter how hard they wish and try. I’m not trying to be a downer and I pray to G-d that doesn’t happen to Larry and me, but facts are facts.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green, while trying it’s darnedest to be the feel-good family movie of the late summer, is just another film the likes of The Back-up Plan, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, the forthcoming and G-dawful looking The Babymakers and even Juno (another movie where Garner plays a woman who can’t get pregnant; hmm, typecast much?): all unrealistic portrayals of the infertility experience.

Counterpoint being Up, as an example. Up manages to not only capture a lifetime’s pain of pregnancy loss, choosing not to parent and ultimately the loss of a loved one in under four minutes, but it does so with stunning grace and overwhelming emotional pull – without a single spoken word. Further, Ellie’s pregnancy loss is not just a blip in an otherwise chipper film about a man who sails his house to South America with a bunch of balloons: their gorgeously rich life without children and his deep, abiding love for his wife serves as THE sole character motivation for the otherwise stodgy old Carl. Pixar got this across in FOUR minutes.

The other films I’ve mentioned, Timothy Green* included? They can’t even figure this out in 90+ minutes.

*I should say, Timothy Green most likely included, since the film’s not out yet and I haven’t seen it. But if this trailer is any indicator, I’m not holding out much hope that it’s going to stand out as some heralded bedrock of Hollywood’s portrayal of the infertility experience.

I have no problem with wishes. I have no problem with hope. What I do have a problem with is Hollywood’s repeated, pathetic attempts at making infertility a trendy plot device (from Friends to The Handmaiden’s Tale and everything in between). Again, it takes what almost feels like throwaway moments to make the point more strongly than by devoting an entire film to the subject.

Besides Up, there’s that insanely painful, not even three-minute scene in Julie & Julia where Streep’s Julia Child learns that her sister is pregnant. It’s such a short scene, but she begins to sob while she’s comforted by her husband, played by Stanley Tucci. And in the blink of an eye, smash cut to a new scene.

Bam. Those few minutes on screen in Up and Julie & Julia sock you right in the gut, particularly if you’ve gone through infertility. We get it. We know. And it’s enough to be poignant to other movie-viewers who have not experienced infertility.

Now why can’t Hollywood stretch these infertility blips out to 90 minutes?

I have no idea if The Odd Life of Timothy Green will deliver. I gather from the trailer that we’ll never know exactly why they can’t have kids. It’ll just be glossed over to advance the plot more quickly, I imagine. And who knows what will happen to this weird little garden boy – will he grow up? Are there others like him? And Disney hates the unpleasantness of a Carefully Crafted Conflict Left Unresolved, so I bet dollars to donuts the starring couple ends up with some kind of miracle pregnancy.

Who knows, maybe Timonthy Green will turn into some kind of watershed moment for the depiction of infertility in Hollywood, paving the way for films to come.

All I know is that I’m saving my movie ticket money for The Dark Knight Rises (She Who Must Not Be Named be damned).

The Odd Life of Timothy Green comes to theatres August 15th.

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