RedEye

'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
  • Group to Park District: Build DuSable Park

    Group to Park District: Build DuSable Park

    Where Lake Michigan meets the Chicago River is three acres of overgrown weeds and shrubs. It is referred to by some as a "ghost park" because it is hidden in plain sight.

  • Rejoice! Adele's new album is rumored to arrive this fall

    Rejoice! Adele's new album is rumored to arrive this fall

    There's a fire starting in my heart and it's making me realize it's been kind of a while since Adele released an album. Her last full-length "21" dropped in 2011 and I barely remember that year it feels so long ago. But now, there's some good news to fill our recently Adele-less lives and it's...

  • Chicago rappers Probcause and Saba team up on 'M.I.A.'

    Chicago rappers Probcause and Saba team up on 'M.I.A.'

    Welcome to RedEye's "Song of the Day," an ongoing feature where music reporter Josh Terry or another RedEye staff member highlights something they're listening to. Some days the track will be new, and some days it will be old. No matter what, each offering is something you should check out. Check...

  • Trump vows never to eat Oreos again, citing move from Chicago to Mexico

    Trump vows never to eat Oreos again, citing move from Chicago to Mexico

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump repeated his claim Tuesday evening that he would stop eating Oreos, citing the cookie maker's decision to close a plant in Chicago and move it to Mexico.

  • Let's talk about this new Justin Bieber song 'What Do You Mean?'

    Let's talk about this new Justin Bieber song 'What Do You Mean?'

    Don't get me wrong, Justin Bieber is still really embarrassing. He's the young pop star who recently said something only a 21-year-old would say, "Now being 21, and going through some hardships, I think you can hear that in my vocals." This is a guy who, last year at a charity gala benefiting AIDS...

  • Illinois lottery winners have to wait for payout due to budget impasse

    Illinois lottery winners have to wait for payout due to budget impasse

    After years of struggling financially, Susan Rick thought things were looking up when her boyfriend won $250,000 from the Illinois Lottery last month. She could stop working seven days a week, maybe fix up the house and take a trip to Minnesota to visit her daughter.

Comments
Loading
73°