Set in the fictional “pencil capital” of Stanleyville, “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” is a sweet, modern-day fairy tale about family and relationships. Jennifer Garner (“13 Going on 30”) and Joel Edgerton (“Warrior”) star as Cindy and Jim Green, a young couple whose simple life only seems to lack the one thing biology is outright refusing them: a child. Faced with the reality that they can’t have children of their own, the Greens spend a cathartic evening with a bottle of red wine, a pencil and a small notepad, writing down all of the qualities their dream child would possess. Before they head off to bed, they bury these pages in a small wooden keepsake box out back in Cindy’s lovingly tended garden. Later that night, a wet and dirt-covered 10-year-old appears in their house and informs them that he is, in fact, Timothy – the son they always wanted but weren’t destined to have. Played by doe-eyed CJ Adams, Timothy is the picture of everything the Greens want, a sweet boy with a gentle heart, a ready wit, and a charming personality.
As they begin to introduce him to extended family, you start to see the exceedingly small cracks in Peter Hedges’ script, where Jim and Cindy’s relationship with Timothy speaks more about how they relate to their own family members than about how they relate to Timothy. He becomes a means to an end, a way for Jim to settle up with his often-absentee father, Big Jim (David Morse), and for Cindy to stand toe-to-toe with her tiger mother of a sister, Brenda (Rosemarie DeWitt). There’s also a side story about Timothy and how he explores relationships of his own as he befriends the cool, semi-goth Joni Jerome (Odeya Rush). You get only glimpses into the relationship formed between Timothy and Joni, but what you see is clearly reflective of deep friendship that turns into first love.
An additional thread involving the town’s central structure, the pencil factory managed by Franklin Crudstaff (Ron Livingston, “Office Space”), provides the opportunity for Livingston to play the full-on jerk you never really saw in his role on “Sex and the City” as well as a way for Jim to stand on his own two feet for the first time in his life. Timothy is part of the transformation of his parents, seemingly within a matter of weeks, allowing them to work through their own daddy and sister issues while they hover relentlessly over his soccer coach (the deliciously scene-stealing Common).
The overwhelming majority of those of us attending the screening were parents, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house at the end of the film, although I’ll spare any further plot details so as to leave the mysteries intact. Suffice to say that it’s worthwhile to grab some extra napkins at the concessions stand when purchasing your popcorn; you’ll need it. “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” is a genuinely sweet film, and it’s one that will make you want to run home and hug your kids, if you didn’t bring them along with you. Its minor trips with the one-dimensional stereotypes of the super-competitive, arrogant mom (Brenda) and the domineering, lying boss are easily forgiven once you look into Adams’ sweet eyes. For her part, Rush is likely to be a star any day now. The Israeli-born actress looks like a pint-sized Mila Kunis and, while she’s beautiful now, she’s likely to venture into knockout territory by the time she’s in her upper teens. Garner and Edgerton turn in heartfelt and (at times) heartwrenching performances as Timothy’s parents, supported by a solid cast that includes industry veterans like Dianne Wiest (“Edward Scissorhands”) and M. Emmet Walsh (“Blade Runner”). Ahmet Zappa’s story of miracles, love and loss is definitely one worth sharing with the whole family.
3 out of 4 stars
“The Odd Life of Timothy Green” opens nationwide on August 15, 2012. This movie is rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested) for mild thematic elements and brief language.