Rated PG for mild things. I mean, it's a little kid who hangs out with an imaginary polar bear. But the movie never presents the polar bear as imaginary. It's an extremely tame movie for the most part, but Timmy's unique perspective leaves a lot of the movie to be interpreted for oneself. If you squint, you could find some questionable content, but it's a well-earned PG rating. It's a Disney+ movie, so take from that what you will.
DIRECTOR: Tom McCarthy
I broke my own rule. It wasn't for very long, but it did happen. I fell asleep during this movie. It's not even bad. I went from falling asleep in the movie to immediately preaching the movie. Like, I heavily recommend this film for families because I guffawed a few times. There's nothing really annoying about it. But I also fell asleep. I'm getting up there in age. Watching a bunch of films with a critical eye is actually kind of a chore, especially in quarantine where there are so many kids' movies. But it did happen. And I'm terribly sorry about that.
Timmy Failure is the first kids movie that explains absolutely nothing. For as simple as the movie is, I kept on wondering what was going on in the subtext, which ultimately seems superficial. It's actually putting the onus on me. I'm rarely this vulnerable when I'm writing these things. Normally, I have a complicated movie where I'm entirely allowed to have a poor interpretation. But Timmy Failure? If I mess this up, I'll be a regular Timmy Failure. I'm dancing around this, but is Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made a child-friendly exploration of a protagonist on the spectrum? Timmy sees the world in an aggressively personal way. Timmy, with his lack of smiles and happiness behind this whimsical adventures, dares me to call him out on something. The movie never drops the word "autism" or anything similar. But Timmy's unique point of view is what makes the movie what it is. He lives in a version of Portland that is larger than life, but everyone else doesn't possibly see. Timmy, as the protagonist, demands that we play along or else the story doesn't make sense.
It's this bizarre duality that the movie presents. Let's use Total, his polar bear, as an example. Similar to the way that Bill Waterston's Calvin and Hobbes has Hobbes as a character that no one questions, Timmy's relationship with Total is never really explained. The movie even presents an origin to Total, but that origin is insanely bizarre. It's really weird when you are trying to establish the world of Timmy Failure. The movie presents almost a heightened reality that we have to question over and over again. It's not insane that a kids' movie presents animals acting in strange ways. But instead, there are cues for the adults watching the movie to question Timmy as a reliable narrator.
And any time that we question Timmy, we come across as the villain. Timmy has this running thread of Timmy trying to get the school to be more accessible to polar bears. He logically presents this concept that there's this backwards thinking behind the school, but none of the students really point out that there has never been a need for a pro-polar bear rule in the school. This is between the adults and children involved. Adults are frustrated with Timmy, to be sure. But there is this tolerance for Timmy's behavior that makes him a unique protagonist. The goal is that we don't want Timmy to change because it is unfair for Timmy to change. Instead, we see someone on the spectrum not as pitiable, but relatable. It's kind of genius in its own way. We're so used to seeing people with various disorders as characters to be pitied. Instead, we have to follow Timmy's train of logic and want for him to be the protagonist of an adventure rather than a drama. There's not really this thread of pity, but rather of adventure.
For kids, they get this story where Timmy and Total are taking on the Russians and trying to find the Segway. But for the adults, there's this split in focus. For part of the movie, we relate to the single mother raising a kid who is incredibly frustrating. That's not a commentary on Timmy. But she is fighting this uphill battle of getting a kid who may be incapable of normality. It's bad enough that she's raising a kid alone in a world where it's implied that Timmy's father left them when Timmy was young, but she has a kid who is on the verge of failure because he can't understand that he needs to meet social cues. Then we have Craig Robinson's therapist character, who completely sympathizes with Timmy. He meets him halfway and does all he can to give him cues in ways that Timmy can understand. And then, and this is my favorite character to relate to, is meter maid Crispin. He's entering a world that is extremely overwhelming and he's trying to make the right decisions when there are so many issues that Timmy's family is dealing with. He's this extremely charismatic character who keeps making realistic mistakes.
The movie starts with this climactic moment where Timmy drives a truck into his teacher's house. Told through flashback, it's believed that everything that we're seeing leads to Timmy driving a truck into the house. But it's not even real. As frustrating as that is, it is also central to what the story discusses. Timmy doesn't live life in reality. He's a guy who really believes his own imagination to make his narrative progress. It seems like it is a cop out that Timmy never actually drives through a house. But that moment is actually important for Timmy's character as a whole. It is the one moment where Timmy can emotionally distance himself from his imagination. It's actually pretty touching thinking about Timmy making baby steps in the right direction. And that's what the movie, for adults, is all about. It's seeing this sympathetic character never really suffering for his delusions. He gets mad at adults for not understanding what it is like to be him. But it is also a story about a kid learning to say sorry. It's right there, in the title. It's Timmy coming to the realization that his world is not everybody's world. We never get angry at him for not understanding that. Instead, the movie is celebration of the baby steps that Timmy makes in trying to defend a comfort zone.
It's not a beautiful movie. Instead, it is a fun movie that just happens to be important at times. Do I wish I hadn't fallen asleep? Sure. But it's a good movie for family night. There might be some conversations that have to happen while watching it. But our kids were cool with this being the way that Timmy saw everyday life. It's a solid movie that's a pretty strong quarantine stream. Enjoy!
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.