The Odd Life of Timothy Green

A game cast and some good intentions keep a flighty fairy tale properly rooted

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The Odd Life of Timothy Green

Aside from the role she was born to play – Sydney Bristow on TV's Alias – I've always liked Jennifer Garner best as the ice queen desperate for a baby in Juno. She's most believable at her most inward, her sharp features carving out narrow valleys against her cheekbones. It's a setup, because when that face inevitably melts and tears race down those vales, it's a bit of a guilty rush.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green finds Garner once again within her slow-thaw sweet spot playing Cindy Green, who, with her husband Jim (a perfectly down-home Joel Edgerton), is at her most desperate. The Greens have tried everything to conceive or adopt a child and, as we enter their lives, have heard what's likely their final "no." Of course, we know that's not the case from the get-go: The film, written and directed by Peter Hedges (Pieces of April) and based on a story by, um, Ahmet Zappa, employs as its device a super-final plea to Supreme Adoption Justice Shohreh Aghdashloo.

Facing a life of grief, resentment and divorce – in that order – Jim devises a diversionary tactic in which the pair write down a handful of qualities they'd wish for their hypothetical child: He's "Picasso with a pencil," and "funny like Uncle Bub." He "loves and is loved." "He rocks." (You know, the usual.) They put their wishes in a box, bury it in the garden and go to bed slightly less despondent. That night, a hard rain comes, but only in their backyard; come morning-time, they've got the son they've always wanted.

Timothy (C.J. Adams) immediately knows the Greens as Mom and Dad, and upon discovering the remnants of their thought experiment scattered around a small crater in the garden, they pretty much go with it. Good thing they're quick on their feet, because here comes the entire extended family for one of those massive brunches you only see in Parenthood. But Timothy makes few adjustments – if he teaches the Greens anything, it's the ability to stop giving so much of a shit about others' opinions.

It's one of many wholesome lessons delivered in a quaintly literal-minded story-book of a movie, lushly photographed by John Toll, that balances magic-realist sentimentality and painful parenting truths. It's a difficult tone that's managed seemingly through gut commercial instinct by Hedges, who specializes in these tricky high-wire acts. (In addition to Pieces of April, he also wrote What's Eating Gilbert Grape, adapted About a Boy and co-wrote Dan in Real Life.)

The film loses a bit of steam when its ticking-clock center is fully revealed, but the ending sticks to its guns and the journey there is smart enough to forgive its precociousness, and the actors (especially Garner) sell the hell out of a thin premise. Even when the logic isn't quite there – something about the fragility of life comes up in the third act and really just lays there – like Cindy and Jim Green, its good intentions are reward enough.

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