Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made. 2020
Directed by Tom McCarthy
Starring Winslow Fegley, Ophelia Lovibond, Ruby Matenko, Chloe Coleman, Craig Robinson, Nicole Anthony, Kei, Ai-chan Carrier, Wallace Shawn, and Kyle Bornheimer
An 11-year old boy who believes that he is the best detective in town runs the agency Total Failures with his best friend, an imaginary 1,200-pound polar bear.
A child is abandoned by his father and in comes a 1,200-pound polar bear as a replacement buddy. It’s a coping mechanism as idiosyncratic as the titular Timmy Failure is himself, who goes on to start up his own one boy/one polar bear detective agency which sees him going around Portland looking into random occurrences such as stolen backpacks and dead school pets that basically have no mystery behind them (for example, the hamster dies from natural causes). This is all just a distraction for Timmy as he’s struggling to put away his imagination and set aside his abnormal childlike wonder in preparation for middle school.
Directed by Spotlight‘s Tom McCarthy (yes, that Spotlight and that Tom McCarthy) also serving as a co-writer (Stephan Pastis offers a helping hand adapting his own children’s novel), Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is irreverent joyous fun consistently utilizing dry humor. With nonstop narration from Timmy (Winslow Fegley, a younger brother of the slightly more known Oakes Fegley who starred in a different Disney film, the live-action remake of Pete’s Dragon), Tom McCarthy establishes a playful tone that is also surprisingly not as concerned with the aforementioned deeper theme of childhood abandonment.
It doesn’t really come up again, but in a way it doesn’t really have to as this small slice of life has its own challenging situations presenting themselves to Timmy, ranging from his mom seeing a new boyfriend (a meter cop played by Kyle Bornheimer who amusingly does his best to engage with those he must hand tickets so as not to be hated and in turn give his profession a better reputation), being a misfit that’s not ready to grow up and who might never fit in with the other kids, and learning how to better make use of his imagination in a less rambunctious and more productive manner.
What’s also fascinating is that Timmy is not just out about town attempting to solve crimes for his own enjoyment, as he genuinely wants to be successful in his line of work so that he can help out his single mom (caring and warmly played by Ophelia Lovibond) with the bills. As he puts it, once he catches a big break and moves his office downtown he will be able to pay her 10 times what she makes working her normal job. It’s all admirable and sweet, painting the eccentric behavior that sometimes might indeed go too far (his actions do get him a three-day suspension from school proving to be a thorn in the side of Wallace Shawn’s crotchety Mr. Crokus) with good intentions. For all the cutaway gags and oddball comedy (there’s a librarian dressed as a biker with “read or bleed” plastered all over the back of her jacket), Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made makes good on, well, focusing on his mistakes and how they stem from his life in transition.
Coming clean, as soon as I got a press release about this and saw it was a Disney+ original about a boy and an imaginary polar bear, I hesitated to watch and review, even knowing the director (come on, Tom McCarthy was also responsible for The Cobbler). Then I noticed it was actually playing at Sundance and decided I would give it a whirl and write whatever came to mind. The biggest surprise is how unobtrusive and wisely inserted the antics of Total the polar bear is; he’s not wreaking havoc, talking, singing, or doing anything annoying. He exists in the space of Timmy as an imaginary friend occasionally generating simple but effective laughs. The film knows it’s about Timmy and that it has to stick with the chaos going on in his life.
Throw in a couple of other random characters (Craig Robinson as a counselor providing his own dry humor and light dramatic touches, and some classmates that usually find their way sucked into one of Timmy’s ideas) and you have something well-rounded in terms of substance and laughs. The mysteries never go anywhere and there’s nothing to really solve, but that’s fine considering every five minutes another ridiculous plot development is thrown Timmy’s way. Nevertheless, he does assume the Russians are behind all of the crimes (except the camera cuts to random people that are clearly not Russian), which is the only thread that doesn’t go anywhere while feeling like it should. The movie never really makes a statement against being prejudice, but it’s also truly harmless labeling that shouldn’t offend anyone.
Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made charmingly operates in the wheelhouse of dry humor from an unorthodox director choice, but thankfully it all pays off. Winslow Fegley plays Timmy as a strange kid that’s likable enough to warrant this getting a sequel. There are multiple books and the child is a detective, so it’s only logical. Maybe now that his place in life is established the filmmaking team can have him solve a real mystery. Either way, spending more time with Timmy and his imagination would be great; this entire fictional version of Portland is bizarre and endearing, so bring on more cases.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com