A strange young man appears from nowhere and is taken in by an unsuspecting childless couple who raise him as their own, struggling to understand his appearance in their lives as strange events begin to occur all around them. With a few tweaks, the plot of "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" could be the plot of a horror movie, but instead it is a kinda-sorta heartwarming family fairy tale, set in the present (but by no means in modern times).
We find ourselves in an adoption agency meeting with Cindy (Jennifer Garner) and Jim Green (Joel Edgerton), a couple desperate to adopt, who first must relay a strange tale of someone named "Timothy." It all started when Cindy's dreams for a baby of her own fell through. In an attempt to cheer her up, Jim decides they should make a list of all the qualities their kid would have had. I can't imagine anything more depressing, but the two grab a bottle of wine and imagine a wonderful child all their own.
They lock this list up in a small wooden box and bury it in the back yard. With a little rain and some magic, soon a strange young boy, Timothy (CJ Adams), appears in their lives, calling them Mom and Dad. The Greens are perplexed by Timothy -- and the living leaves that are growing from his legs. Slowly, they begin to realize he's everything they ever wished for, and begin to raise him as their own, despite the concerns of Cindy's sister (Rosemarie DeWitt) and their family.
Cindy works at a pencil museum overseen by a cranky benefactress (Dianne Wiest) and Jim works at the pencil factory that has been the town's industrial center for decades. These people love them some pencils. The Greens adjust to their new life with young Timothy, who proves to be the ideal child, though he seems to be harboring a sad secret. When the pencil factory is threatened and the Green's family is in turmoil, it's soon up to Timothy to bring the town and the Greens together.
"Odd Life" is centered around familial relationships, whether it's young children with their own parents, or grownups with theirs, and the pain and joy that those binds can often bring. But other than demonstrating what a wonderful family the Greens are, there's no great lessons to be found here, no great revelations. The metaphor of growing up and growing older is applied here very literally, and the film raises more silly questions than it answers. Cindy Green struggles with her relationship with her sister, and Jim Green has a difficult relationship with his father, prompting both of them to occasionally attempt to use Timothy for their own ends in these personal struggles, but there's never more than love and pride at the center of all that the Greens do. Timothy is the child they've always wanted, with no imperfections or complications or real-life foibles -- in fact, he's fairly remarkably self sufficient, far more so than the Greens who fuss and worry constantly.
The film's mechanics are fine, but the performances are lackluster and it's more than partially the fault of Peter Hedges' script, which doesn't give anyone much room to work. CJ Adams is wonderfully adorably as young Timothy, but doesn't seem to add much of his own verve to the role. Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton are so earnest and well-meaning as the bright eyed couple who just want something, anything to love that it's hard to not find them annoying. Dianne Wiest, and Rosemarie DeWitt in particular, are delightfully mean-spirited and fun to watch as the baddies of the film. Everyone is so painfully one dimensional that the most shocking thing that happens is at one point the Greens eat dinner on the floor.
The real problem with this PG-rated movie is that it simply has nothing to add to the world. It's very simple, not much happens. Infertility is a devastating matter, deeply affecting the lives of those who want to parent and cannot have their own child. The film is to be commended for promoting adoption, but the larger takeaway message is entirely unclear. There are a few slightly scary sequences, and young children may be confused by the ending. But the film is schmaltzy and very saccharine, so sweet it'll give you a toothache. As a film that won't quite appeal to children -- too complicated -- and certainly won't appeal to many adults, "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" is very odd indeed.