The same year that Mel Gibson first played Mad Max, in the film of the same name, he starred in this very different feature, a sticky-sweet romance about a middle-aged woman who falls for a mentally challenged fellow 20 years her junior. While not an especially interesting movie, thanks to the sluggish pacing and trite storyline, Tim has some novelty simply because of Gibson’s presence. While his innate charm gets him through, the actor is as mediocre in Tim as he is assured in Mad Max. This says a lot about the importance of synchronicity between actor and role. In the ensuing years, Gibson’s capacity for real-life anger has become legendary, so it’s now easy to recognize why he simulated Mad Max’s sociopathic angst so effectively. Yet the title role in Tim called for an actor who could convey pure innocence, and that particular quality seemed to exist slightly outside Gibson’s wheelhouse circa the late ’70s.
Throughout Tim, he diligently strips free of affect and guile, but in doing so, Gibson comes across more like a needy puppy dog than a believable human being. It’s also distracting that Gibson is so extraordinarily attractive—whether he’s prancing about in tiny swim trunks or working in short-shorts and a tank top, Gibson looks like he’s in a homoerotic music video, rather than a serious dramatic film. So while he’s not bad in the film, per se, he’s just slightly miscast—which has an impact on the overall project, since he is, after all, portraying the title character.
That said, Tim is an essentially respectable enterprise. U.S. actress Piper Laurie, the picture of midlife elegance, stars as Mary Horton, an American-born professional living in Australia. One day, she spots handsome young laborer Tim (Gibson) doing yardwork next door. When her own gardener calls in sick, Mary hires Tim as a handyman, eventually extending his work to her beach house as well as her primary residence. Because Tim is simple-minded, Mary’s burgeoning affection for the young man is initially quasi-maternal in nature. Yet her patronage pleases Tim’s blue-collar parents, who fear Tim has no prospects in life. Then, after both of Tim’s parents fall ill, Mary’s role in the young man’s life becomes more central. She denies the physical aspects of her attraction to Tim until the circumstances of their lives change, so much of the film’s drama stems from Mary’s angst over whether to get intimate with a man who has the mind of a child.
Based on a novel by Australian author Colleen McCullough—who famously revisited the forbidden-love genre for The Thorn Birds, which became a massive U.S. miniseries—Tim is gentle to a fault. There’s very little dramatic conflict, the movie is padded with flat and repetitive scenes of contented people enjoying each other’s company, and the gooey music score makes Tim seem like a Hallmark greeting card come to life. Still, Laurie lends more than a touch of class, Gibson’s megawatt charisma is on full display, and the Australian locations are lovely. Call it a draw.