The colorful characters inside the mind of critically acclaimed post war writer Alan Milne are brought to life in this biopic that opens eyes to their traumatic origins. In ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’, we get a rare glimpse into the relationship between beloved children’s author A. A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) and his son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), whose toys inspired the magical world of Winnie the Pooh. Along with his mother Daphne (Margot Robbie), and his nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald), Christopher Robin and his family are swept up in the international success of the books; the enchanting tales bringing hope and comfort to England after the First World War. But with the eyes of the world on Christopher Robin, what will the cost of fame be to the family who are just starting to grow together again? ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ is directed by Simon Curtis, and is rated PG for thematic elements, some bullying, war images and brief adult language.
This isn’t the kind of bear seeking honey kind of story that you’re used to, nor is it a conventional dramatic biopic with all of the positive feelings of a warm and wholesome good time. ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ tugs at the tear ducts of its moviegoers, depicting a family at war with the perils of fame and seclusion from each other, and at the heart of it all is a little boy whose childhood is literally ripped from him unfairly. It is surprisingly in these elements that cast a kind of dark and unorthodox style of a real life story being played out here that is anything but inspirational, warranting the release of the most loved children’s book of all time and the consequences that came with such a gift. To this degree, Winnie and friends kind of have their own Grimm fairytales kind of origin, creating a kind of manufactured degree of happiness that resides within the books considering so much angst and abandonment was taking place behind the scenes. This is a story that isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty, and that’s the sign of any strong biopic that doesn’t have its own reservations going into the script.
To that degree, the film does embrace the kind of imaginary aspect that is necessary from deep within the developing relationship of this father and son who barely know each other despite living together. The relationship between them isn’t perfect, nor is it ever meant to be, but the film’s rare moments of bliss are when the two are engaged within a forest of delightful wonderment that transforms them to a place where only they can touch. Sadly, these moments are incredibly rare as this dysfunctional family plays a towering adversity to them continuing to persevere and overcome the burden of distance between them that has been present since day one. The setting of this very big house is detailed accordingly, forcing us to feel the cold that resides from inside, leaving very little character or love within its storytelling walls. The film might not elaborate much on the process of the books themselves, but it does focus the error of its ways on the steep price associated with fame, particularly in jealousy, as well as this soiling feeling of innocence that eats away at the origins of this child’s fantasy. In that respect, the valued lesson of family first eats away at the material, carving out a hearty center that has you fighting a war of your own to reach that plateau.
The pacing is very difficult to get through in the opening act particularly, but once you pass the half hour mark, the film opens up its creative engine to the real meat and potatoes of the story. I am usually a sucker for background exposition early on in a film, but the length of time associated with Milne’s post-war trauma and inability to make a living while sounding off on the battlefield, left me bored to tears and begging for some familiarity within the characters or world of Pooh that gave me relief. It happens more frequently during the second act, but it’s never in a way that feels rushed or even overcooked, choosing instead to let the audience piece the inspirations together without ever beating them over the head with hints. The final act of the film ends somberly enough, bringing forth a mystery of sorts that admittedly did suck me in to the way it held this family in its grip and sucked the life from every single one of them. There is a time transition here that feels very rough in sequencing, and could’ve used more emphasis to the audience before jagged force took over. Even still, the profound loss of childhood innocence rings to its truest form here and struck a chord with me for the way we can never get it back once it is gone.
Child actors come and go but Tilston is so valued to this screenplay that his emotional register often represents the very roller-coaster of tone that the film goes through. This is the first time that I have seen Will act, and I must say that he is leagues above most child actors of the same age bracket if only for the way his big glassy eyes burn a hole through your soul that has you fighting back tears of your own. As for the adults, there are some hits and misses. Gleeson gives another heralding performance, performing Milne as a minefield of emotional uncertainty that requires anyone around him to tread lightly. Macdonald also gives a welcoming warm-hearted side to the older age bracket in the film, an aspect especially necessary for the sometimes appalling nature how the Milne’s operate under their roof. The chemistry between Macdonald and Tilston sometimes had me forgetting that they weren’t actually mother and son, despite this being the obvious closest that Christopher ever had to a parental unit. The only performance that I didn’t care for was Margot Robbie as Daphne. I supposed Robbie is doing her job since I couldn’t stand this character for even a minute because of her shallow and insensitive demeanor towards everyone and everything, but my problem with Robbie in this role rests firmly on her commitment to performance that lacked on nearly every turn. Her fake British accent is decent, but it’s so inconsistent that her real life Australian accent often gets in the way, creating a sort of hybrid between two accents that removed me from most scenes she acted in. Her performance is also entirely over the top, creating a lack of believability in her commitment to turn that definitely presented her as the weakest link here.
As for production value, there’s plenty to gush over in radiant fairytale-like qualities. The film has some beautiful photography within its range, depicting England’s finer countryside with a boosting color palate. Some of my personal favorite creative touches with the film’s artistic merit included some transitional sequence illustrations that look like they were lifted directly from the pages of one of Milne’s novels, complete with text below the page that reads like a bedtime story. The editing work could use some improvement, mainly because it feels a bit forceful from time-to-time particularly in the war transitions that occasionally felt inconsistent. Sometimes the transition from life to war blends together smoothly, blurring the similarities in physical properties within them, and then there are other times when the flashback happens for a reason that doesn’t feel synthetic to the movement prior, playing into the gimmick of momentary eclipse that frankly doesn’t ever go anywhere with the film.
THE VERDICT – ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ is a bittersweet brush of sentimentality for many different reasons than its literary counterparts. The film’s poignant approach in the blending of childhood fame and the overall loss of innocence is one that stuck with me strong, mainly because of the timely facials of the great Tilston in this title role. Curtis’s film isn’t perfect by any stretch, mainly suffering at the hands of a weak first act, as well as some rough edits that subdue the immersion of imagination. But this drama is above par for the sweet taste of wistfulness that flowed like honey throughout from the strong-rooted tree that this story stands on.