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updated: 8/15/2012 6:19 AM

It's an 'Odd Life,' but not so wonderful

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  • Cindy (Jennifer Garner), Timothy (C.J. Adams) and Jim (Joel Edgerton) wow friends and family with an impromptu performance in the botanical fantasy "The Odd Life of Timothy Green."

      Cindy (Jennifer Garner), Timothy (C.J. Adams) and Jim (Joel Edgerton) wow friends and family with an impromptu performance in the botanical fantasy "The Odd Life of Timothy Green."

  • Video: Odd Life trailer

 
 

"The Odd Life of Timothy Green" struggles to be an endearing, life-changing Capraesque tale, something like "It's the Wonderful Odd Life of Timothy Green."

I tried very hard to simply kick back, willingly suspend my disbelief, and enjoy this strange botanical fantasy about a boy who crawls fully grown out of the backyard garden of a childless couple.

But the hodgepodge plotting, partially formed characters incapable of normal reactions, and strained, treacly appeals to our emotions stopped me at every turn.

"The Odd Life of Timothy Green" stands as a prime example of magical realism lacking both realism and magic, but mostly the realism necessary to ground the magical parts and make them believable for 100 minutes.

Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton play Cindy and Jim Green, a nice couple attempting to persuade two adoption officials that they have what it takes to raise a child.

Their evidence?

Well, they got to pretend to be the parents of a human plant named Timothy who sprang from their garden after a magical storm rained on a box containing the Greens' wish-list that they could have a son "honest to a fault."

The Greens tell this to the adoption officials (Shohreh Aghdashloo and Lin-Manuel Miranda) required to act as if they're seriously considering this story as evidence of the couple's suitability as parents.

Instant 10-year-old Timothy (C.J. Adams, emanating more cuteness than Haley Joel Osment in his "Sixth Sense" days) blossoms with English skills and witty humor.

He looks perfectly normal, except for the leaves growing out of his ankles. The Greens cover them with socks and send the lad to school where the nasty son of Dad's boss (Ron Livingston) at the local pencil factory bullies him.

Ever the optimist, Timothy withstands the humiliation with good spirits. Even when the soccer coach (Common) criticizes Timothy's pathetic sports skills, the lad remains upbeat: "I can only get better!"

You gotta love a kid like this, except this one you don't. And he's not really a kid, despite demonstrating male kid interest in a fetching wannabe goth classmate Joni (Odeya Rush).

Timothy's leaves, of course, are the movie's metaphors for "differences" that cause kids to be ostracized by classmates and/or society. Oh, oh! Timothy's leaves are turning brown and falling off. What does it mean?

It means that director/co-writer Peter "Dan in Reel Life" Hedges is creating some badly needed narrative tension by setting up a mystical, maximum-emotional departure.

But these characters simply aren't engaging enough to pull off an ending like E.T.'s heartfelt goodbye scene.

Edgerton's Jim is an edgeless character still seeking approval from his own judgmental and mostly absent father, Big Jim (David Morse).

Garner's Cindy is a thin echo of her hurting, wannabe mommy in the superb "Juno." Meanwhile, Cindy's insensitive uber-mother sister (Rosemarie DeWitt) constantly strives to one-up her in a weird maternal competition.

"The Odd Life of Timothy Green" is not a mean-spirited movie, but it does make light of the plight of real couples you and I might know who struggle with their childlessness and deal every day with the pain of unfulfilled dreams.

I am not sure what this movie wants to say about couples who can't conceive.

Except, perhaps, that if they can practice parenting skills on a child who crawled out of their tomato patch, they might just move to the front of the adoption line.

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