'Odd Life of Timothy Green' a tale of a little green sprout ★★ 1/2

"The Odd Life of Timothy Green" is odd indeed. It comes from writer-director Peter Hedges of "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" and other pictures, and in pleasing ways as well as some dubious ones, Hedges ranges all over the place in his expansion of a story credited to Ahmet Zappa, Frank's son.

The emotional anguish of infertility; the challenges of adoption; raising and being a nonconformist or "different" child; small-town recessionary woes; improving your relationship with your father while there's still time; saving the local pencil factory. That's a big range.

The results likely will entice some and frustrate others, but all I can do is explain why I understand both reactions. In the one-industry town of Stanleyville, where the old-school pencil factory is on the ropes, Jim and Cindy Green (he works at the factory, she at the local historical society run by the fearsome Ms. Crudstaff, played by Dianne Wiest) have been tested by their inability to conceive and, so far, to adopt.

Then, a miracle. One night the married couple draw up a series of notes citing what sort of child they'd love to have in their lives. Brave, honest "to a fault," someone who'd "rock" as well as score the winning goal — that sort of thing. They put the notes in a box and bury it in the backyard. A freak rainstorm filmed not unlike Tobe Hooper's "Poltergeist" brings forth from the earth ... a boy, summoned from their collective desires. He has a serene way about him and one notable oddity: a tendril of un-clippable green leaves wrapping around each ankle. He's like Puck in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," only he can't take off the costume.

Hedges' film follows how the Greens adapt to this addition to their lives, and how Timothy, the boy from the ground, fulfills or subverts their laundry list of ideals. The writer-director's previous film, also for Disney, was "Dan in Real Life," and throughout Hedges' career the Iowa native has adapted his brand of whimsy across novels, plays and screenplays. Extraordinary children and ordinary, sometimes idiotic parents inhabit a theme he explores frequently, and "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" continues that exploration.

It's an elegant, honeyed production, photographed (in Georgia) by cinematographer John Toll, and it's full of interesting actors. Tense and chatty, Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton bring fervent sincerity and a welcome touch of comic eccentricity to the Greens, helicopter parents just waiting for takeoff. CJ Adams as Timothy is charming and effective, in a Haley Joel Osment-but-less-fraught way. His character is what it is — a symbol of parental projection and fond, supernaturally fashioned hopes for a better, more verdant and just society.

Rosemarie DeWitt plays the undermining sister of Garner's character; Ron Livingston, the double-dealing manager at the factory; M. Emmet Walsh and Lois Smith, Timothy's delighted grandparents; Common, the soccer coach; David Morse, the quietly unsettling father of Jim Green. Hedges overpacks this tall tale, which is relayed in flashback as the Greens are pleading their adoption case with the official played by Shohreh Aghdashloo. The script cannot quite calm the realist inside you ("you" meaning "me"), the one who wonders why these eager, deserving parents with their sudden adopted leafy wonder aren't subjected to an inquiry by a federal agency of some sort. (Or has that agency been zeroed out in a new administration?)

Onstage, you wouldn't question the fablelike nature of things in "Timothy Green." On screen, it's harder. Hedges is a determined romantic and a bit of a saphead. He's also humane. In other words: Unlike, say, the execrable "Powder" (if you haven't seen it, don't), this fable of the gifted child doesn't go for the throat as it goes about its odd business.

mjphillips@tribune.com

'The Odd Life of Timothy Green' -- 2 1/2 stars

MPAA rating: PG (for mild thematic elements and brief language)

Running time: 1:40

Opens: Wednesday

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • 10 movies to see this summer

    10 movies to see this summer

    Chicago Tribune movie critic Michael Phillips picks 10 movies you should look forward to this summer.

  • Bold predictions for Lolla 2015

    Bold predictions for Lolla 2015

    The Lolla schedule is sort of like the NCAA tournament: there are millions of possible combinations, and it’s anyone’s guess what the winning picks will be. With that in mind, we make some bold predictions about how this year’s fest (returning to Grant Park Fri.-Sun.) will turn out. Breakout artist...

  • 2010 killing of Chicago cop detailed at trial; man claims self-defense

    2010 killing of Chicago cop detailed at trial; man claims self-defense

    The man on trial in the killing of Chicago police Officer Thor Soderberg hated police and surprised the officer as he changed out of his uniform at shift end and placed his duty belt down, a Cook County prosecutor alleged Monday.

  • Aldermen to hold hearing on untested rape kits

    Aldermen to hold hearing on untested rape kits

    Chicago aldermen on Monday called on police officials to provide information on how quickly rape kits are being tested by the state crime lab, part of a largely symbolic effort to determine whether a large backlog is hampering work to apprehend rapists.

  • Alderman's 'Chi-raq' criticism falls flat

    Alderman's 'Chi-raq' criticism falls flat

    A South Side alderman's effort to tweak filmmaker Spike Lee for using "Chi-raq" as the title for a movie about Chicago violence fell flat Monday with his colleagues.

  • ComEd to hold energy fairs to help low-income customers

    ComEd to hold energy fairs to help low-income customers

    Commonwealth Edison will hold energy fairs at satellite locations across the region Monday in order to get money to thousands of people struggling to pay their electricity bills in northern Illinois.

  • PAWS Chicago "Muttshots!"

    PAWS Chicago "Muttshots!"

    These adorable pups are on the loose looking for a place to call home. They have a warrant out for their arrest. Their crime? Being irresistibly cute and cuddly. If you're interested in adopting any of these dogs, please visit www.pawschicago.org for more information.

  • Wabash Lights exceeds Kickstarter goal, hopes to begin test this fall

    Wabash Lights exceeds Kickstarter goal, hopes to begin test this fall

    The designers of an ambitious plan to install colorful LED lights on the underside of the Wabash Avenue "L" tracks raised almost $60,000 in a Kickstarter campaign that will allow them to move forward with a test of the project.

Comments
Loading

79°