The seed of an idea from Ahmet Zappa that grew into the new family film "The Odd Life of Timothy Green," which opens in theaters today, is rooted in good intentions and positive messages. Sadly, it was not nurtured by director Peter Hedges, who co-wrote the script with Zappa, and the story wilted.
The always likable Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton play the personable Cindy and Jim Green. Their life in the sleepy little town of Stanleyville, pencil capital of the world, is nearly perfect. The only problem is they find out their desperate desire to have a baby will not happen.
In a cathartic move, they write down all the attributes their child would have had and bury the list in the garden.
That night, 10-year-old Timothy (CJ Adams) is born -- or sprouted, or hatched, or conjured, or something -- and is taken in by the Greens. He is a perfectly healthy child except for the leaves that grow out of his ankles.
"The Odd Life" runs into problems when Hedges stumbles between making this a pure fantasy and grounding it in reality.
If the director had wanted to keep this a fantasy, he would have made Timothy more of an enigma. Once everyone else in town can see the youngster, it opens up a ton of questions, such as: Where is he from? How can he attend elementary school without a birth certificate or school records?
The film is less a story about the power of hope and love and more of a cautionary tale of parenting.
The Greens are constantly professing their lack of knowledge at being parents, a sentiment most real parents can understand. But the lamenting becomes too whiny as the movie goes along.
Grounding the film in reality also takes some of the charm away from Timothy. His odd approach to life would have seemed magical in a more fictional world.
As soon as Hedges put the story in the real world, Timothy's quirks -- such as being drawn to the sun like a plant -- come across as odd.
The film is filled with people, places and things that are introduced but never fully explained.
Timothy and the girl of his dreams (Odeya Rush) create an artistic area made from leaves, twigs and branches. While it looks to have a mystical purpose, that's never fully explored. Even a character like Cindy's persnickety boss (Dianne Wiest) is never developed.
With a little more TLC, "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" might have grown into a story as strong as an oak and as sentimental as a weeping willow. It just never gets past being little more than a chestnut of an idea.
"The Odd Life of Timothy Green," rated PG for language. Stars Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, CJ Adams, Odeya Rush. Directed by Peter Hedges. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes. Grade: C Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.