With its enchanting elements of magical realism, its refreshingly old-fashioned lack of cynicism and its forthright addressing of timely but universal themes, “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” makes for unabashedly heartstring-tugging family entertainment.
The live-action Disney film hearkens back to the Mouse House's classic “Mary Poppins” as well as Frank Capra's beloved “It's a Wonderful Life.” Writer-director Peter Hedges (“What's Eating Gilbert Grape,” “About a Boy,” “Dan in Real Life”) doesn't waste time explaining “Timothy Green's” supernatural elements, instead gently inviting the audience to accept the magic and get caught up in the tale's warmth and humanity.
Based on a story by Ahmet Zappa (yes, the son of Frank), “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” stars Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton as Jim and Cindy Green, a likable pair who desperately want to have a baby but finally must accept the crushing verdict from their fertility specialist: conceiving a biological child just isn't going to work out for them.
Before moving on to the next step, the couple give themselves a night to grieve and wish. They break out a bottle of wine, a little notebook and a pencil and write out their wishes for a child — “honest to a fault,” “Picasso with a pencil,” “will score the winning goal one time,” among others — and then carefully place the scraps of paper in a wooden box that they bury in the garden.
During the night, a strange, violent storm blows over their farmhouse, and a dirt-coated 10-year-old named Timothy (CJ Adams) magically appears in their nursery. Since he calls them Mom and Dad and seems to already know and love them, the Greens accept on faith that he is meant to be theirs.
Frankly, the couple could use some good magic in their life. Their Anywhere, USA, town of Stanleyville is struggling because its primary employer, the locally owned pencil factory where Jim works in quality control, is teetering on bankruptcy. Cindy is employed as a docent in the town's pencil museum, which is controlled by cold and callous millionaire matriarch Bernice Crudstaff (Oscar winner Dianne Wiest, effectively concealing her usual winning smile). Jim's boss is another equally horrible member of the factory-owning family, oily and entitled heir Franklin Crudstaff (the excellent Ron Livingston).
The Greens are determined to pass off Timothy as their newly adopted son, despite some oddities: The boy has a strangely wise but innocent spirit, an unusual habit of basking in the sunlight and a bizarre cluster of leaves on his legs that no pruning shears can remove.
Embracing their newfound but long-desired role as parents, Cindy and Jim are loving but naive, struggling mightily with relatable child-rearing challenges like accepting Timothy's differences while helping him avoid bullies, dealing with Jim's cold and distant father (David Morse) and Cindy's judgmental, perfectionist sister (Rosemarie DeWitt) and navigating their son's first romance, with fetching fellow outsider Joni (Odeya Rush).
Hedges tells the tale in flashback, with the Greens earnestly relating their experiences with Timothy to a stern adoption agent (Shohreh Aghdashloo), establishing right away that his film will serve up a side of bitter with its sweetness. While some aspects of the story are pretty predictable, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker manages to work in a few surprises and, more importantly, conjure plenty of magic and emotion along the way to a satisfying conclusion.
— Brandy McDonnell
‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green'
Starring: Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, CJ Adams, Rosemarie DeWitt, David Morse, Dianne Wiest, Ron Livingston, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Odeya Rush. (Mild thematic elements and brief language)