If Tim Burton had directed “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” instead of Peter “Dan in Real Life” Hedges it might have been called something like “The Strange and Sad Tale of Mr. Pencil and the Chlorophyll Kid.” This bizarre tale could have used a dose of Burton’s off-kilter sensibility to mute Hedges’s heart-string tugging.
Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton are Cindy and Jim Green, a good-looking couple from Stanleyville, the Pencil Capitol of the World. She works at the Pencil Museum, he’s a foreman at the pencil factory. Childless, they have been trying for years to get pregnant. After a specialist tells them that it won’t be possible for them to have a child, they commiserate in an unusual way. Over a bottle of wine they write down all the characteristics they’d like their idea child to have; a heart like his mother, to score the winning goal and to be able to rock out on an instrument. Sealing their wishes in a box, they bury it—along with their hope of having a child—in the garden and go to bed. Soon there’s a commotion outside, and they become the proud parents of… a plant. Well, a boy named Timothy (Cameron Adams), complete with leaves where his socks should be, who sprung from the “seeds” they planted.
There is no denying the sweet tone of “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.” Garner has likeability on her side, so you empathize with Cindy and her “You can’t let anyone see your leaves!” protectiveness and Edgerton pulls it off as a confused and confounded dad, but the fantasy aspects of the story come off as twee instead of sweet.
It’s fertile ground for a fantasy about fertility, shame and acceptance but it feels a bit too clever for its own good. It’s hard not to identify with the choices new parents have to make when Jim send Timothy off to school with a cheerful, “Have a great day,” only to have Cindy scold him, “That’s a lot of pressure…” Those bits the movie gets right but the rest of it, the story of leaf boy and the pencils is, pardon the pun, drawn out.
Add to that a series of unnecessary connective scenes at an adoption agency and you have a movie with likeable performances, and a timely message in our bullying age, but one that also feels overgrown with sun-dappled sentiment.