In the silly season of animated animals and 3-D mayhem, do you find yourself wishing for a nice old-fashioned family film, the kind that Disney used to make?
As childless couple Cindy and Jim Green learn in “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” (opening Aug. 15), be careful what you wish for.
Brokenhearted and broke from fertility treatments, Cindy (Jennifer Garner) and Jim (Joel Edgerton) have retreated to their generous Victorian in small-town Stanleyville (“Pencil Capital of the World”), where, drunk on that special-occasion bottle of wine, they write up a wish list for the perfect little boy and bury it in a box in the vegetable garden. Out of it springs Timothy (CJ Adams), a 10-year-old boy with leaves sprouting from his calves.
Otherwise, Timothy seems normal enough, except when the sun comes out. Then he stands there with his arms outstretched like a tree and his head raised to the sky, to the consternation of everyone except the local weird girl (Odeya Rush). He makes his parents’ wishes come true to the letter.
He comes up with a plan to save the endangered pencil factory where Jim works, as well as the trees it consumes. But secretly, under his knee socks, Timothy’s leaves are turning brown. And when they go, so will Timothy.
Here, your own 10-year-old will point out that trees do not die when they lose their leaves, and you will have to explain that sometimes people who make movies get fuzzy in the head.
If your child is exceedingly precocious you might add that this is a Christian allegory, in which the beatific Timothy absolves some perfectly awful people of their sins. Those perfectly awful people are played by some pretty fine actors, including Dianne Wiest as the town matriarch and Cindy’s boss at the pencil museum; Rosemarie DeWitt as Cindy’s sister, an ultracompetitive mom; and David Morse as Jim’s withholding father.
In the way that women in Judd Apatow comedies function as the catalyst for late-blooming maturity, Timothy serves to prepare the Greens for the challenges of parenting, but Cindy and Jim are already so practically perfect they’d send Mary Poppins back to nanny school.
But “The Odd Life” is not just odd, it’s morbid and morose. It’s also sanctimonious, an adjective not usually attached to the work of novelist and filmmaker Peter Hedges (“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “Pieces of April”), in which families are stews of passive aggression and sardonic resignation.
His screenplay is based on a story by Ahmet Zappa (Frank’s son), who perhaps came up with it drinking that special-occasion bottle of wine while watching the Z-grade cult film “Troll 2,” in which boys do indeed become plants. Trees, Pinocchio notwithstanding, never become real boys. But that’s why we have adoption agencies.