Film, Reviews, Screen Goodbye Christopher Robin movie review: emotional biopic cheapened by chewy sweetness and candy-coated aesthetic By Luke Buckmaster | November 24, 2017 | ★★★★★ ★★★★★ There is a lot of sunshine billowing through trees in Goodbye Christopher Robin; a lot of glistening moments with bright green grass and the humming of birds and bees. The picturesque, picture book atmosphere created by director Simon Curtis and cinematographer Ben Smithard is what you might expect of a Winnie the Pooh movie – though this isn’t, strictly speaking, a Winnie the Pooh movie. Rather a semi-biopic of its creator, author A.A. Milne, who is played with waxy standoffishness by Domhnall Gleeson. Or perhaps that should be “creators.” Illustrator E.H. Shepard (Stephen Campbell Moore), who sketched those iconic pencil drawings, also appears in the film, though relegated to an uninteresting walk-on role. A more prominent figure is the titular boy, who is both a character in Milne’s world of anthropomorphic animals and the author’s son. The film makes it clear the round-faced pipsqueak was responsible for many things, including naming characters (no points for creativity for calling a piglet “Piglet”, though) as well as inspiring the story’s very raison d’être. The problem with Curtis’ gleaming, candy-coated aesthetic is that it reeks of artifice, which hardly bodes well with notions of historical accuracy. The director asks us to take his film seriously, while fostering an environment that says: Mary Poppins couldn’t make it today, but she’s welcome anytime. Complicating matters are the film’s hints of magical realism – mostly used in scene transitions, and largely for the purpose of evoking Milne’s experiences on the WWI battlefield. The author and playwright, for example, tosses a cricket ball in the air – which then explodes. For a split second the audience may be forgiven for thinking the gadget inventor Q, another quintessentially British creation, might have got his hands on Milne’s stuff, before realisation dawns that the film has whisked us elsewhere: to the frontline. Milne suffers hallucinations and a crippling case of PTSD. There is no evidence that he actually had this (yet to be defined) condition, used by screenwriters Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan to justify the man’s distant, at times ill-disposed demeanour. The author – a self-professed pacifist – did write about the squalor of war, which no doubt impacted him terribly. But the mental condition depicted by Curtis is next-level, Milne bursting into cold sweats at the sound of a popping balloon (red, of course) and hearing gunfire in the fluttering of insects. Goodbye Christopher Robin eventually builds some emotional weight – albeit too little too late, and ultimately in service of Hallmark Card messages. Of more interest (and certainly a little more nuance) are the quiet moments in and around the Milne family home, situated on the edge of Ashdown Forest in south-east England. Simple scenes take on extra significance in the understanding that they play a part in Pooh’s evolution – i.e. occasions around the dinner table with Christopher’s toys, and playing around outside near (and on) giant trees. Christopher (Will Tilston at age 8, and Alex Lawther at 18) is close to his nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald, who looks like a twin sister of the Australian comedian Celia Pacquola) but not to his mother Daphne (Margot Robbie). The screenwriters imply her coldness towards him arose from disappointment that she had not given birth to a girl, a resentment they suggest she never got over. Goodbye Christopher Robin eventually builds some emotional weight – albeit too little too late, and ultimately in service of Hallmark Card messages – when an older Christopher comes to resent his father for using him as a PR tool. He became a celebrity and was subsequently bullied at school. At the core of this is a grievance that something private, shared between him and pa, was made public. Initially the message of the film, through its mixing of war and post-war timelines, appears to be: behind every beautiful thing there is some kind of pain. That message evolves and matures, into a reflection of art regarded as wonderful by many creating – or at least exacerbating – sadness, heavy hearts and deep-seated rifts, in those closest to its genesis. All of this borne of the simple, but tainted beauty in a parent and child spending time together. Goodbye Christopher Robin could even be read as a counter to Cats in the Cradle. Father and son shared plenty of good times together, and yet, in a strange sort of way, this bond became the core of their problems – or so the film supposes. There are powerful ideas and emotions here, at times communicated effectively – but always with a chewy sweetness that cheapens them. This is a bizarro world where every sin is forgiven and every wound healed. SUPPORT ARTS JOURNALISM AND WIN TWO LUXURIOUS NIGHTS AT MONA IN HOBART. DETAILS HERE Facebook Twitter Pinterest LinkedIn Email About the Author: Luke Buckmaster Luke Buckmaster is film critic and writer for Daily Review, and contributes commentary to a range of Australian publications.