From The Australian Film Commission
Directed by Michael Pate
Yes, I can remember when I actually liked Mel Gibson. I was first taken in when I saw this film... only his second and his first starring role. Mad Max, The Road Warrior and Gallipoli were still to come. He was blindingly handsome and hunky, too, running around, as he is, for half the movie in a tank top and some very short, tight little jeans. Give me a moment to compose myself and we'll go on.
This is a very tender love story and it is such a shame that it is largely under-appreciated if not unseen by many. There is a point only in the beginning that it reminds me of Douglas Sirk's wonderful 1956 film, All That Heaven Allows, wherein a well-to-do widow begins a romantic relationship with her gardener much to the consternation of her family and the town gossips. Here, Mary Horton (Laurie) is a well-off American widow, a bit lonely, living in Australia, who hires 20-something Tim (Gibson) to tend to her yard and gardens. Mary is aware from the beginning that Tim is a bit slow or as he himself says... not a full quid.
Tim has no filter and is not capable of anything less than full-on honesty. He tells Mary that he was allowed to quit school at 15 because he was unable to learn. He can't read or write. Mary is taken with his impeccable manners and easy-going way.
Tim resides with his working-class family and they all love him dearly and protect him. Mary phones the parents (Kurts, Evison), and asks if Tim can continue working for her on a regular basis and that will include at her beach house which will require weekend duty. His parents are very supportive although thankful is probably closer to the truth. The one fly in the ointment is sister Dawnie (Kennedy) who blurts out to the father, what's she see in him to which the father responds she's good to him.
And she is. She's also very good for him. It's apparent from the beginning that Mary has developed feelings for Tim based primarily on his special needs. He becomes enamored of her, learns to count on her and tells her in his unabashed childlike way that he likes her as much as he does his family. When Mary sees that her feelings are getting deeper, she consults a friend who runs a special needs school for youngsters and he encourages her to go forth.
She teaches Tim to read and his reading for her becomes a part of their routine at the beach house. It is amusing to note that when he first comes to work for her and they take a tea break, she is reading Colleen McCullough's The Thorn Birds. In the future Laurie would have a featured role in the acclaimed television miniseries of The Thorn Birds.
The learning is not all one-sided. Tim gets Mary's life to open to love. Her loneliness evaporates as she learns to care for and understand him. He gets her to have fun by swimming in the ocean which she has only looked at for years. He encourages her to run with him and to enjoy the sun. As laughter becomes a constant, she becomes lighter. As she becomes a woman in love, she acquires the glow of youth. Spontaneity becomes her friend.
Some things about Tim will never change. We know that. He not only speaks without a filter, he loves without one as well. Unconditional love is the only kind he knows how to offer. His every concern is for Mary. She helps turn him into an adult man and the transformation is lovely to watch.
Tim has never known anyone who has died and doesn't understand the concept of death. Like a lot of other things, Mary patiently and tenderly tells him about death which comes in handy when his beloved mother dies of a heart attack. I must say the scene is harrowing where she, overweight, sweating and carrying groceries uphill to her home, first encounters the attack. Awaiting the scene where Tim will be told actually made me breathe heavier. (You've never doubted I get into movies, have you?)
Tim and Mary's only blemish occurs when Tim twice spots Mary hugging his father which, of course, she is doing to comfort him over his wife's death. But Tim misunderstands what he sees, crying out that she never hugs him like she used to. The comment moves the story into its final act. Take a peek:
The father tells Mary that he no longer wants to live and asks that she continue to watch over Tim and also handle the family's insurance matters. How the father has taken to Mary is as touching as how Tim and Mary feel about one another.
Mary and Tim decide to wed and enjoy a lovely ceremony. Shortly, thereafter the father, too, dies. We're happy Tim has Mary and can only wonder how the rest of his life would have worked out without her.
One also wonders how life will work out with her and how it will work out for her... and for him... and for them. I enjoy the layer of sentimentality this film spreads. I expect the naysayers would find it overly sentimental but for my tastes it is simply very touching. What I saw was very thoughtful, tender and emotional... a great love story, not just of romance, but also of family. I loved the leisurely pace of the film and the time that was allowed for the relationship to develop.
Longtime movie villain Michael Pate not only directed his one and only movie but also adapted McCollough's novel. It felt like a labor of love all the way around.
What should have increased this film's visibility is the acting. From the time I first came to love movies, I adored Piper Laurie. She spent years making silly costume dramas at Universal but her career changed with The Hustler (1961). She then drifted from public discourse until she appeared as the whacked-out mother in Carrie (1976). The following year she made another horror film, Ruby, which is the movie that Pate saw that motivated him to hire her to play Mary. She is perfect in this part, a sight to behold.
That last line applies to Gibson as well. I had never heard of him when I saw Tim. He is so convincing in the role that for years, no matter what movie he was in, I always thought he was not a full quid. And of course... oh never mind.
I recall reading in Laurie's autobiography, Learning to Live Out Loud, that the two engaged in some once-and-done, horizontal hijinks... oh, those actors putting everything into their roles.
I would be remiss to not mention the wonderful acting of the parents, Kurts and Evison. Their every-man-and-woman demeanor added the right touch of realism.
Production values are not the best... it often has the look of being done on the cheap... but I managed to overlook it in my enchantment with the story. I did like Eric Jupp's musical score... it oozed with love.
A part of what endears me to movies... and this has never changed from my earliest movie-going memories... is an ability to root for the characters. Against whatever obstacles they face, they just have to come out on top. In those darkened theaters, I still want to believe good begets good so I just rooted my little heart out for Mary and Tim.
She is so darling