Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

Movie review by
Jennifer Green, Common Sense Media
Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made Movie Poster Image
Inventive, book-based misfit tale is sweet and funny.
  • PG
  • 2020
  • 99 minutes

Parents say

age 7+
Based on 21 reviews

Kids say

age 6+
Based on 9 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Meant to entertain rather than educate.

Positive Messages

Timmy learns to take care of himself, trust the adults and kids around him, say he's sorry when it's warranted, and adapt as necessary to be an active member of society.

Positive Role Models & Representations

A teacher and a librarian treat Timmy with derision, but the school counselor forges a relationship with him based on respect and kindness. Timmy's mother loves him and works two jobs to make ends meet, while her new boyfriend shares some of his own therapy wisdom with Timmy and tries hard to befriend him. Some of Timmy's classmates value his uniqueness. Fifth graders organize an animal awareness day.

Violence & Scariness

Timmy imagines a car driving through a living room window. When Timmy and his mom's boyfriend try to capture a purse snatcher, a fist fight and minor car accident ensue, mostly played for humor. Timmy and his teacher are in potential danger on a bridge at a dam.

Sexy Stuff

"Crap," "loser," "dumb," "weirdo."


Portland and its brands -- Voodoo donuts, the Portland Zoo, various food trucks and establishments. Segway. Books by Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Gilbert.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the main character of Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is a misfit whose refusal -- or inability -- to be a "normal" kid will resonate deeply with some kids. Still, the film -- based on the popular books -- keeps the tone largely upbeat and humorous, thanks to the boy's outlandish plots, his unique imaginary friend (a bear), and fantasies (like the gloomy "Our Crusher of Souls" middle school), as well as an eccentric cast of Portland characters and settings, sweet friends, and loving adults. Timmy's detective agency, "Total Failure, Inc." and his wild schemes for cracking cases are inventive. Those closest to him consider him positively unique, but one angry teacher and others find him an exasperating nuisance. To get out of trouble, Timmy engages in some white lies to his mother and plenty of delusional thinking (like that he'll open an agency downtown instead of going to middle school). Mild violence is mostly imagined and language is limited to "crap," "loser," "dumb" and "weirdo."

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byM86 February 12, 2020

Thought it would be much better

I thought this would be much better than it was. Our kids were disappointed and we were too. I was mostly disappointed in the cuss word at the end. I always che... Continue reading
Adult Written byJes2020 February 11, 2020

Not for the little ones.

Near the end of the movie, there is a scene where the kids are having a rally outside at a park and the main adult figure says “damn”. Definitely was not neede... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byI love July 10, 2021

Age 6

This movie is kid friendly and I love it
Kid, 12 years old June 18, 2021


I love this movie and I don't get why people are freaking out by the one time someone says damn in the movie

What's the story?

TIMMY FAILURE: MISTAKES WERE MADE turns on a fifth-grade boy (Winslow Fegley) who believes himself to be the head of a successful detective agency. Recording clues on an old tape recorder, donning a red scarf at all times, and accompanied by an imaginary friend, a 1,500-pound polar bear, Timmy disparages his classmates and teachers as annoying and disturbing. Saddled with the last name "Failure" but believing himself destined for "greatness," Timmy feels nobody understands him but his bear. His loving mother (Orphelia Lovibond) tries, but she's out day and night working two jobs to make ends meet, leaving Timmy to his own endeavors. The boy's vivid imagination about plots involving Russian operatives and evil classmates gets him into perpetual trouble. Absent a father figure in his life, Timmy is encouraged by two caring men -- the well-meaning meter maid (Kyle Bornheimer) dating his mom, and the astute school counselor (Craig Robinson) -- to adapt better to the real world without giving up his imaginary one.

Is it any good?

This inventive, book-based movie pulls off the rare trick of being a thinking person's film for kids.The Oregon city that provides the setting for Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made has the unofficial slogan to "Keep Portland Weird." Likewise, this film's tagline could read, "Keep Timmy Weird." The quirky tale celebrates difference, be that in the form of a misfit 5th grader with an exceptional imagination, or in its Portland setting, home to self affirming murals, naked bike races, bearded hipsters, activist kids, and tattooed librarians. "Normal is for normal people," Timmy and his struggling mom say, in defiance as much as self preservation.

Timmy's single-minded, boy-against-world superiority is laugh-out-loud funny, but as it slowly dawns on the viewer that his refusal to adapt is actually problematic for his own well being as well as for the adults who care for him, the film also becomes a poignant psychological study. His imaginary friend and emotional crutch is the polar bear Total, and their tender, E.T.-like hand-to-paw farewell implies a new beginning for the boy.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the pros and cons of being different, like the main character of Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made.

  • Have you ever had an imaginary friend? What did you enjoy most about him/her/it?

  • How did the filmmakers put a polar bear in Timmy's house and on the streets of Portland?

  • Have you read the Timmy Failure books? How is the movie similar or different?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love quirky movies

Themes & Topics

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