‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ is a distant, insincere tale with no emotional connection

 By: Hunter Heilman

October 28, 2017

My sister was way more obsessed with Winnie-the-Pooh than I was. She loved everything Winnie-the-Pooh when she was young, even down to having a quote from “House at Pooh Corner” by Loggins and Messina in her senior page of her yearbook, a song that will probably play at her wedding, as well. I don’t think there is a person alive today who doesn’t have fond memories of Winnie-the-Pooh in some form from their childhood, whether it be from the books, starting with Winnie-the-Pooh in 1925, or the movies, all the way through the 2011 reboot Winnie the Pooh. However we’ve been touched by dear Winnie, do any of us really know how he came about? How he was created? Do we even know the name of the author behind him? Goodbye Christopher Robin wants to fix that.

Domhnall Gleeson as A. A. Milne and Will Tilston as Young Christopher Robin courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Alan Alexander (A. A.) Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) is a writer and former soldier returning home to London after World War I. Struggling to find his writing groove, as well as suffering from PTSD, he moves himself and his wife, Daphne (Margot Robbie) and son Christopher Robin aka “Billy Moon” (Will Tilston) to the country to focus on his writing. Not producing any work in the country either, Daphne leaves Alan and Billy to return to London to her life as a socialite until he can produce work. Looking to produce a work about war, his distractions with Billy and the fantasy world he creates in the country lead to the creation of Winnie-the-Pooh, ending in resounding success. With Billy’s newfound fame of being THE Christopher Robin, the parents, as well as Billy’s nanny Olive (Kelly MacDonald), must balance the stress of Billy’s fame and his need of a childhood.

Goodbye Christopher Robin has all the makings of a wonderful, heartwarming biopic, with none of the execution of one. The film seems to hope that your nostalgia over Winnie-the-Pooh will lead you to immediately care about the story at hand, but without any sort of real direct referencing to the stories written beyond vague descriptions, the film’s nostalgic foundation soon begins to crack underneath its feet. Before long, the film becomes a simple child misery flick, with setback after setback hitting the adorable Billy, an increasingly  tiring and honestly quite irritating thing to to watch.

Domhnall Gleeson as A. A. Milne and Margot Robbie as Daphne de Sélincourt, A. A. Milne’s wife courtesy of Fox Searchlight

His self-serving parents’ sheer disregard for Billy’s well-being at the helm is also grueling to watch as the film progresses. I began to tire of the sensation of wanting to cry at every point of Billy’s suffering from his exploitation. There was a point where Goodbye Christopher Robin went from heartwarming to heartbreaking, a move that only works when it is brief. Films like Victoria & Abdul flirted with this concept a bit in some scenes, but it doesn’t compare to the complete emotional abuse that Goodbye Christopher Robin puts you through.

The performances in the film are fine, none really sticking out aside from Tilston’s performance as Billy, who is a charming, charismatic child stuck in a role simply hell-bent on making him hit every roadblock a child can hit. It’ll be nice to see Tilston in much more forgiving role in the future, something less emotionally burdensome than this one.

Direction from Simon Curtis is serviceable, if a bit dull. It begins to blend into every other British period piece ever made, and without any sort of differentiators present, fading away before the film even ends. It’s a cliché, predictable, manipulative approach to some truly interesting history. This all leads to a final act twist so cheap that it almost makes you want to throw your popcorn at the screen.

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

And yet, Goodbye Christopher Robin is so manipulative, à la The Notebook and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, that it will pull audiences’ heartstrings in such a way that will cause audiences without them realizing the cheap tricks at hand. Raw emotion with nothing behind it can be effective in small bursts, but solely resting on it is a cheap, lazy trick that lessens the value that Goodbye Christopher Robin could’ve had. Was I affected emotionally by the film? Naturally. Did I buy any of it? Not a chance.

If anything, Goodbye Christopher Robin, aside from being borderline offensively manipulative, is also just terribly forgettable. It has nothing truly special about it to set it apart from the pack of many awards-vying biopics that hit theaters each Fall. Which leads me to believe that the issues with Goodbye Christopher Robin are far more intrinsic. Goodbye Christopher Robin is truly underwhelming.

Star Rating: 2 out of 5

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