- Product Rating -

Goodbye Christopher Robin

| November 7, 2017

With awards season comes an ostensibly fresh swath of awards-hopeful movies, largely leaning on our collective childhoods and British accents to gaslight the public into being moved. Now, Goodbye Christopher Robin isn’t quite within that camp of moviegoing manipulation, but it isn’t far enough from it to earn the praise of its subject’s work. Despite good work from its cast and inherently fascinating themes, its script can’t help but sanitize and speed through the sadder, much deeper story that lay within the film’s core.

The movie concerns Alan “A. A.” Milne (Domhnall Gleeson), who after returning from World War I, takes his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) and son Christopher (Will Tilston) to live in the English countryside, where their newly hired nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald) looks after the latter almost entirely on her own. Due to his PTSD brought on by combat, Alan remains slightly aloof from those around him and it isn’t until Olive home goes to visit her sick mother for a little while that he begins to spend time with Christopher.

Their relationship spurs the inspiration of Winnie the Pooh, and its runaway success throws the son into the spotlight, threatening to rob him of his own childhood as Alan and Daphne continue to travel around and do press for his creation. The movie never really commits to the fact that Christopher is being inadvertently exploited by his own parents, instead spending over half of the movie on exposition and leaving the meat of the story for less than the last 40 minutes.

Gleeson and Robbie have proven themselves to be capable performers even when in lackluster material, the latter being more commonly subjected to such than the former. Their charisma, along with that of Macdonald and the doe-eyed, Danny Torrence haircut-sporting Tilston, help deepen the film’s more engaging aspects. Even when Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Simon Vaughan’s screenplay feels the need to rush through the foundational scenes of the plot, they inject humor—which is sometimes unexpectedly droll—and Simon Curtis’s direction helps create a better illusion of time and place than Cottrell-Boyce and Vaughan’s writing does. There’s a sunniness to Goodbye Christopher Robin that compliments its overcast aspects.

Alas, the positives aren’t enough to completely redeem the movie from its negatives. This is a movie with pacing so brisk that it often feels flippant in its treatment of its characters and their circumstances. Structurally speaking, it’s back-heavy with less than the last 40 minutes of its 107-minute runtime containing the most weight. The movie is forward-thinking enough in its momentum to avoid flopping aimlessly like a tortoise on its back, but it also doesn’t have the agility of the animals within Milne’s now-historic creation.

The attempts to solidify interpersonal dynamics are very much admirable, but they don’t feel terribly consequential when the characters’ sudden break from normalcy isn’t given enough time to breathe. What is essentially a story of an artist’s love for his son ironically leading to a form of child exploitation does not demonstrate what follows. At the most, it has a nanny verbalize why what’s happening is wrong, which makes the movie itself a sort of equivalent of Alan and Daphne as poor parents.

Goodbye Christopher Robin is not a bad movie. It holds many ideas, themes, and archetypal representations of human behavior that can make for a story that is relevant and timely while also within the context of something that all of its audience members have absorbed, either first-handedly or through heavy doses of osmosis. The movie knows that exploitation need not be crass; it knows that childhood is not finite by its very nature. It just can’t bring itself to express those sentiments thoroughly or satisfactorily, and as its most pivotal scenes’ howls are reduced to buzzes, the movie drops its magic.

About the Author:

Senior year film student at Columbia College Chicago, Hollywood Film Festival pre-screener, and Best Social Media Presence for North Farmington High School's 2014 senior mock elections. Firmly believes that ".gif" is pronounced "jiff".
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