Compared to other "mystical visitors" in movies, Timothy, a little kid who came from the garden to delight us all with his big eyes and love of the sun's rays, is cute enough to make this film work for kids and families who are desperate for some entertainment that doesn't involve explosions. For everyone else, it's probably not quite well-developed enough. But did I mention the kid is cute?
CJ Adams plays Timothy memorably and without the usual precociousness given to young characters like this, and since he sprang from the depths of a garden, that's exactly what the role demands. His childless parents are played by Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton, who come across as strangely wooden throughout the film, even though I've believed them as heads of movie-families before. Even the excellent supporting cast, like Dianne Wiest, Shoreh Aghdashloo and David Morse, seem to be phoning it in. M. Emmet Walsh is the only one who seems his usual self in this one as Uncle Bub, the wisecracking oldster--but that's what he always does.
They all live in PencilTown, USA. Well, the town has a name, but since the subplot of the film involves the pencil factory, and Garner works at the town museum where she talks about pencils, and everyone uses pencils constantly in the film, the screenwriters could have saved themselves some time and used my suggestion. In desperation, after finally being told they might as well stop trying to have a child, Edgerton and Garner write down their ideal kid's traits on a piece of paper. They bury it in the ground, and faster than you can say "Wonderful World of Disney," Timothy pops out of the dirt. PencilTown gets treated to him doing hastily executed yoga positions when the sun pops out from behind clouds, and he makes them laugh a little. He also draws pictures of them and puts on public art installations with the girl he likes, Joni (Odeya Rush).
Mostly, the film is sweet and kids will like it. There are genuinely touching smaller moments, where Timothy first calls Garner and Edgerton "Mom and Dad," or when he's in Uncle Bub's hospital room telling him jokes. This is the kind of movie where rain falls upwards, and from our cynical seats, that's a nice thing. But even so, what the script chooses to focus on is peculiar. Garner spends a lot of time concerned over Timothy's new friendship with Joni, trying to have The Sex Talk with him even after she's only known him for a week. Edgerton and Morse, playing the absentee (grand)father who is no longer absent, have a weird relationship that never gets fleshed out past "he was neglectful and I won't be like him." Morse spends the entire movie hitting kids with dodgeballs and coming to (but quickly leaving) Timothy's soccer games after a couple minutes. Ultimately it's the small, honest interactions, not the big plot points, that live up to the cuteness that CJ Adams creates with his presence.
There's another thing. If you've ever seen a mystical-visitor movie, you know how this movie's going to end. It's not rocket science to know that the kid with leaves on his ankles is headed for some tougher times. Here, the screenwriters weave a premise that's supposed to be warm and fuzzy, but it makes the film much less affecting. When it's over, it blows out of your mind like leaves on the wind.