Jennifer Garner, CJ Adams, center, and Joel Edgerton star in "The… (Phil Bray / Disney )
"The Odd Life of Timothy Green" will make you want to weep, but not always in ways the filmmakers intended.
A "when you wish upon a star" fable in the old-school Disney style, "Odd Life" is the kind of inspirational, family-friendly effort it feels churlish to rebuff.
But while the film's heart is where it should be, the way it presents itself is not. "Odd Life" has its share of warm moments, but it is considerably more cloying and contrived than honestly alive, and the frustration that causes generates those tears.
The disappointment increases because the film can't take advantage of the sweet and genuine performance of young CJ Adams (who plays the title character), not to mention the talents of stars Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton.
Even more dispiriting is to have to bear witness to writer-director Peter Hedges being off his game. A wonderfully gifted individual, whether writing for others to direct ("What's Eating Gilbert Grape," "About a Boy") or for himself ("Pieces of April," "Dan in Real Life"), Hedges' films are usually known for their unforced charm and the emotional complexity of their warmly drawn characters.
But because "Odd Life" is an unabashed fantasy, those talents have little room to display themselves. And not only is the story dreamed up by producer Ahmet Zappa even odder than the title indicates, its execution gets increasingly irritating as the film goes on.
Perhaps the strangest thing about the underlying premise of "Odd Life" — if you wish hard enough, miracles will happen — is that it's identical to the one animating Seth MacFarlane's wildly raunchy movie"Ted." Only instead of wishing for a teddy bear to come alive, the protagonists of "Odd Life" wish for a very particular child.
For happily married Cindy Green (Garner) and her husband, Jim (Edgerton), that wish comes at the end of a very trying day, when, after years of attempts to have a child, they've been definitively told that will never happen.
Distraught, the Greens sit down in the living room of their house in small-town Stanleyville and imagine their perfect child, writing each trait on a different slip of paper.
They gather the papers together and place them in a handsome box, which is buried in the family garden late at night. Then a freak thunderstorm dumps a ton of rain, and before you know it, a 10-year-old boy, covered in dirt, comes out of the garden and into their lives.
Timothy Green (played with purity and innocence by Adams, who was also in "Dan in Real Life") looks like any other boy, except for one thing: There are leaves protruding from his calves, and his worried parents advise him to keep his foliage hidden under pulled-up pairs of socks.
News of this suddenly arrived son causes less of a stir in little Stanleyville, known as the Pencil Capital of the World, than you might think. Jim's pals on the pencil factory assembly line barely mention it, and Cindy's boss, pencil tycoon Bernice Crudstaff (a wasted Dianne Wiest), is too self-centered to pay much attention.
Of course, Cindy and Jim's family notice the new arrival. But it is one of the disappointments of "Odd Life" that these people, Jim's dour father Big Jim (David Morse), Cindy's smug sister Brenda (Rosemarie DeWitt) and her kindly Aunt Mel (Lois Smith) and Uncle Bub (M. Emmet Walsh), are a less than compelling group of individuals, especially by the standards of Hedges' earlier work.
Unfortunately, we get to see more of these people than we want to. For once the peculiar supernatural stuff gets pushed to the side, what "Odd Life" is mostly about is Cindy and Jim's drive to be the best parents they can be to this unexpected son.
Getting in the way of that goal are the issues these two have left over from their own unsatisfying childhoods. As a result, they overprotectively over-parent Timothy like crazy, especially when he makes friends with a mysterious girl named Joni (Odeya Rush), a dynamic which is as tedious to experience on film as it is in real life.
It's not only the Greens who push too hard as parents, this entire film pushes too hard to make us love it. The problem with "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" is not so much the oddness of his entry into the world but how calculated this movie is once he arrives.