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Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017)

Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017)

Directed by: Simon Curtis

Premise: Based on a true story. After returning home from World War I, author A.A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) moves his family to the country. Inspired by his son (Will Tilston), Milne writes the children’s book Winnie-the-Pooh and it becomes an international sensation.

What Works: Goodbye Christopher Robin is the latest entry in a subgenre of literary origin stories such as Saving Mr. Banks and Finding Neverland and The End of the Tour which dramatize the creation of a significant character or the writing of a famous book. Goodbye Christopher Robin is distinct from other biographical stories in that the film is about a specific part of the creative experience. As dramatized in the movie, author A.A. Milne drew upon his son’s playtime in the woods and turned his imaginary friends into the book Winnie-the-Pooh. This is not an unusual part of the creative process; a lot of authors can point to their family members and other close associates as inspirations. But the fictional Christopher Robin shared the name of Milne’s son and as the book became an international hit the public couldn’t distinguish between fiction and reality. There are some interesting issues at work in Goodbye Christopher Robin with the most powerful being the way artists surrender some part of themselves or their family through the creation of their work. As this film depicts it, A.A. Milne gave away something private and special between himself and his son and the younger Milne, who was eight years old when the book was published, struggled with the commoditization of his childhood. The phenomenal success of Winnie-the-Pooh exacerbated that loss with the boy paraded around at publicity events as “the real Christopher Robin.” The movie is in part a cautionary tale about exploiting our own lives and the loss of a sense of self when our most private moments become monetized for public consumption. Goodbye Christopher Robin is well edited. The story moves along briskly and the filmmakers transition creatively between scenes, especially as they leap backward and forward in time. A.A. Milne was a World War I veteran who struggled with post-traumatic stress and the movie does an effective job portraying the triggers that set him off. The movie also has a couple of great performances by Domhnall Gleeson as Milne and Will Tilston as the eight year old Christopher Robin Milne.

What Doesn’t: Goodbye Christopher Robin includes Margot Robbie as Daphne Milne, the wife of the author and mother of his son. Robbie is good in the role but the script doesn’t do much with her. Daphne Milne is the closest that Goodbye Christopher Robin has to a villain. She is cold and coarse and inconsiderate of her husband and son’s feelings. Given the intimate scope of the movie and the depth with which it delves into the father-son relationship, the moviemakers ought to have done more with her character. Using her as a villain feels lazy. Daphne is rather one note and she doesn’t appear to age even when the story skips ahead a decade. Central to the thesis of Goodbye Christopher Robin is that Winnie-the-Pooh was a relief for its readers following the devastation of World War I and the book provided a vision of innocence and kindness that the pubic craved. This isn’t dramatized on screen. The film does give a sense of A.A. Milne’s own difficulty adjusting to post-war life but it doesn’t demonstrate how readers—and especially adults—found solace in the tales of Christopher Robin and his animal friends. The impact of the book is only alluded to in vague terms and so the movie falls short of appreciating the complex relationship between the lives of the Milne family and the fans of the book.

Bottom Line: Goodbye Christopher Robin is a solid piece of drama that has some thoughtful ideas about the relationship between life and art. It takes a few shortcuts that undercut the theme but it is very affecting.

Episode: #674 (November 12, 2017)