There are plenty of actors who have made the jump from being in front of the camera to being behind it. This is so much the norm that it is rare to find someone who works on a movie in a different capacity moving to the director’s chair. However, of these non-acting roles, writers have the best chance of becoming successful directors. Many directors already write the screenplays for their films, so it’s no wonder that writers could merely add on directorial duties to their involvement, thus ensuring their words are accurately portrayed on the screen. Peter Hedges is just such a writer. He has only directed a few movies, but he found his start by turning his breakout novel, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, into the 1993 film version of the same name. This week’s two films highlight some gems in Peter Hedges’ limited directorial career.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green
Length: 105 minutes / 1.75 hours
Even though Peter Hedges has co-written most of his recent films, the themes of family and the interactions between parents and children remains strong. In What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), Hedges wrote about how individuals deal with parents and siblings who might have challenging conditions like obesity or autism. His next script, for the film A Map of the World (1999), and based on the book by Jane Hamilton, deals with how parents cope with the death of a child. Three years later, Hedges would be nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for his work on About a Boy (2002), which deals with parenthood—both as single parents and as a married couple. This theme is expounded upon in The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012), which he co-wrote the screenplay for as well as directed.
The Greens, Jim (Joel Edgerton) and Cindy (Jennifer Garner) are surprised to find a 10-year-old boy named Timothy (CJ Adams) in their house. They are even more amazed when he says he’s their son. After being told they cannot have children, the Greens had given up on the notion of having kids of their own. And yet, here Timothy is. Deciding to play along, both of Timothy’s “parents” take him to family activities, slowly realizing he’s the “ideal” child they wanted all along. Despite being the perfect kid, Timothy has a unique attribute: leaves growing from his legs. These leaves start to fall off as he is able to fulfill all the wants and desires of his parents. Each of these leaves is eventually given to a person Timothy affected positively until there are no leaves left and he disappears as mysteriously as he had first appeared. Shortly afterward, the Greens are able to adopt a child they can “officially” call their own.
Dan in Real Life
Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours
A year after About a Boy released, Hedges made his directorial debut with Pieces of April (2002). Following the separate journeys of a daughter and her family as she prepares to host Thanksgiving dinner, the film highlights the challenges of a family filled with estrangement and relatives on the verge of death. In the end, Hedges excels at bringing the relationships of his characters into the spotlight. The next film he directed, Dan in Real Life (2007), goes back to the motif of gathering family members together as certain members experience a transition between life stages of loss and love. It’s no wonder his most recent film, Ben is Back (2018), centers around a son who comes home to his family on Christmas Eve in need of serious help. Perhaps these elements of Hedges’ films are what make them so relatable: we’ve all been in uncomfortable family situations, but family is family.
Dan (Steve Carell) has a lot to deal with in his life. Not only does he have a job as an advice columnist in a New Jersey newspaper, but he is the recently single father of three girls after the death of his wife. To help overcome some of the grief of his loss, Dan takes his daughters up to Rhode Island for an annual family gathering at his parents’ house. Upon meeting his family again, Dan finds himself irked by his brother Mitch (Dane Cook), who has always enjoyed the single life that Dan now finds thrust upon him again. Fortunately, a ray of hope arrives in the form of Marie (Juliette Binoche), a woman Dan meets in a nearby bookstore. Unfortunately, Marie is Mitch’s girlfriend, a fact he learns when she shows up at the family gathering. Despite trying to overcome this blow to his self-esteem, Dan eventually gathers up the courage to tell Marie how he feels about her, even if it might hurt his brother.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 families filled with feelings by Peter Hedges
Bacon #: 2 (Ben is Back (directed) / Julia Roberts -> Flatliners / Kevin Bacon)