Tim is a cloying, if heartfelt, fairytale about a “simple” gardener who falls in love with an older, American businesswoman. It was released in 1979, the same year as Being There, in which Shirley Maclaine seduced Peter Sellers’ simple gardener. Colleen McCullough’s source novel has a nice idea, but it’s distractingly played out without an eye to reality.Writer-director-producer Michael Pate has stated that he filmed it as a fairytale, and he drops occasional hints to this effect. For instance, Tim (Mel Gibson) says his sister Dawn (Deborah Kennedy) looks like a “fairytale princess” in her wedding dress. But there aren’t enough warnings early on that we’re supposed to suspend our disbelief, so it looks instead like sloppy plotting. Even fairytale characters need a background - Mary Horton (Piper Laurie) merely works at an unspecified occupation, with one workmate, at a bland looking “office”. Nor is there an explanation as to how she could afford a suburban house with a large garden and another big house by an isolated stretch of beach.
Pate deliberately gives us no sense of place, and seems concerned to disguise the film is set in Sydney, which only adds to the blandness. And why oh why is the cinematography of Paul Onorato so dark? Surely not to conceal the young-man-older-woman love scenes for fear of being controversial? You can’t even see them! The murky night filming also goes against the otherwise noticeable lack of realism. Not helping is Eric Jupp, who contributes the most intrusive and ludicrously lush score since Love Story.
The novel must have been a family saga - there are two weddings and two funerals in the course of the movie - and Pate has a hard time compressing it into 100 minutes. A subplot about a teacher of people with disabilities receives short shrift and, by the end, we’re lurching from wedding to funeral to wedding to funeral.
The key factor in its favour is the performances from the cast. Laurie seems a little unsure as to what she’s doing in the movie, but Gibson succeeds in a difficult role. We’re expected to believe that this 24 year old has never been exposed to the concept of death (even though he didn’t leave school until 15) and couldn’t take the excitement of a wedding reception or funeral, but is able to hold down steady work as a builder’s labourer. Gibson manages it with his childish expressions, boyish body language and a single-minded simplicity that defies the silliness of some of the material.Kennedy is a bit shrill as Dawn, partly because of an uneven screenplay, but New Zealander Pat Evison shines in the taken-for-granted mother role and Alwyn Kurts is earthy and touching as Tim’s caring father.