By: Jessica Goddard
From the title to the opening scene to the whole conflict at its core, Goodbye Christopher Robin is a movie determined to make you rethink the context in which A.A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) wrote the beloved Winnie the Pooh stories (then Winnie-the-Pooh). There’s nothing wrong, in theory, with a biopic about A. A. Milne, but why this movie chooses to focus on A. A. Milne being a bad father who apparently ruined his son’s life is anybody’s guess. There is something to be said for exploring the dark side of literary genius, but it’s also probably a stretch to place Milne in that category.
Yes, the style of dress and the repeated references to World War One – “the war to end all wars” – reminds viewers this is a period piece, but the movie is not nuanced in its position that little Christopher Robin (Will Tilston) is being absolutely neglected by his distant, distracted father and flighty mother (a cartoonish Margot Robbie). Applying today’s standards and everything we now know about child psychology to a couple in the 1920s strikes me as deeply cynical.
There’s just not enough whimsy in this movie for what it’s supposed to be exploring. The central narrative ought to be that these timeless stories were born of precious, imagination-filled days spent between a father and his young son, wandering through the woods, but this movie approaches this with bizarre skepticism. Not long after these admittedly delightful scenes, we’re shown Milne and his illustrator, E. H. Shepard (Stephen Campbell Moore), seemingly mining the boy for content. Next, Christopher Robin becomes a bona fide celebrity and his parents callously cart him around the world for appearances and interviews like a “show pony” (again, who needs nuance?). And because emotional manipulation is the primary tool in this film’s arsenal, the relationship we care most about is between young Christopher Robin and the nanny who basically raised him (Kelly Macdonald).
Goodbye Christopher Robin does well at incorporating the consequences of Milne’s participation in WWI (struggles with PTSD, newfound pessimism), but other than that, it doesn’t have much affection or sympathy for its main character. This film is wholly unpleasant without offering much insight. It’s most useful for providing answers as to the origins of the characters’ names in the Winnie the Pooh stories.
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Jessica Goddard: @TheJGod