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'Timothy Green' is oddly good

8:12 PM, Aug. 19, 2012
Jennifer Garner, CJ Adams and Joel Edgerton give an impromptu performance at a family gathering in 'The Odd Life of Timothy Green.'
Jennifer Garner, CJ Adams and Joel Edgerton give an impromptu performance at a family gathering in 'The Odd Life of Timothy Green.' / Disney Enterprises
CJ Adams and Jennifer Garner star in 'The Odd Life of Timothy Green.' / Disney Enterprises

‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green’

★ ★ ½
(fair to good)
Rated: PG for mild thematic elements and brief language

CJ Adams and Odeya Rush star in 'The Odd Life of Timothy Green.' / Disney Enterprises

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“The Odd Life of Timothy Green” is odd indeed.

In a good way, mostly. Writer and director Peter Hedges’ film doesn’t quite add up, ultimately, but its heart is in the right place. It is sweet but tries to avoid sentimentality — at least for as long as it can. And the casting of CJ Adams as the title character goes a long way toward forgiving the lapses. Nevertheless, other problems are more difficult to overcome.

The film begins with the framing device of Cindy and Jim Green (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) at the office of an adoption agency, trying to convince an official there (Shohreh Aghdashloo) that they are worthy to be adoptive parents. (She is not medically able to conceive.) And what makes them so sure, the woman asks?

Timothy.

And thus begins their story. After finally accepting the doctor’s diagnosis that they cannot have a baby, Cindy is devastated. In an attempt to improve her spirits, Jim gets a bottle of wine, a pencil and paper and they spend the evening writing down the gifts and attributes that their would-be child would have. Artistic, honest, scores the winning goal in a soccer game, that kind of thing. They take the scraps of paper, put them in a box and bury them in the yard.

Then a funny thing happens. After they go to bed, the wind picks up. A huge rain storm hits — despite a drought all over town — and soaks the yard. Something stirs in the garden, and then. …

Jim hears a noise in the house. There are muddy footprints. He follows them into a bedroom and, Sure enough, there stands a boy, covered in mud. I’m Timothy, he explains, and I came from the garden. As if to accentuate this point, he has leaves sprouting from his legs.

Just like that, Cindy and Jim have a son. Like his method of arrival, Timothy is different. Everything is understandably new to him, something that doesn’t exactly endear him to the other kids at school. But Jim is determined he will not make the same mistakes with Timothy that his overly critical father (David Morse) made with him. So if Timothy isn’t the best soccer player in the world — and he is not — Jim will work with him, instead of giving up on him.

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Cindy, meanwhile, has wanted to be a mother so long she can’t help but smother Timothy. She’s overprotective and suspicious. — not unlike the traits her character in “Juno” displayed, though in a less-threatening fashion here. She also has to deal with her sister, Brenda (Rosemarie DeWitt), and the perfect children she’s always bragging about.

Timothy does make one friend — Joni Jerome (Odeya Rush), a girl who is somewhat odd herself, a loner, unconcerned with what other kids like. (She, too, has a secret.) But Cindy worries about this, thinks it’s wrong somehow, and snoops around after the girl. She and Jim want to be good parents, but, with Timothy almost literally dropped in their laps, they have a tough go of it.

Happily Timothy is a perceptive child, the sort of wise kid who gently teachs all of the adults the errors of their ways. Each lesson is, in some way, related to the leaves on his legs. He is perhaps understandably connected to the earth to an unusual degree— he finds sunning himself a particular source of strength. This connection will prove momentous as the story plays out, a bittersweet tale that, weighed down with a few obvious clichés, doesn’t quite earn the emotional punch it tries to provide.

But at least it makes the attempt.

Edgerton is miscast as the introspective, brooding father type. He’s much better when he’s punching people in “Warrior” or “Animal Kingdom” than when trying to bond with Timothy. Garner, meanwhile, again plays the annoyingly overprotective mother so convincingly it makes it hard to connect with her at times. There also are implausible elements in the story, most related to the potential closing of the factory where Jim works. That may sound like an odd complaint in a film based in magical realism, but it’s strange enough to distract.

But Adams is quite good — adorable, smart, perceptive. Without him “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” would be a mess. Even with him it’s a little messy, but the clean-up job he provides is admirable.

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