“Goodbye Christopher Robin”: A Millennial’s Movie Review

Updated on October 2, 2017
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Nick is a fresh university graduate with a deep interest in film and cinema, dreaming of one day being a successful film pundit.

Journey of a Hundred Acres

Goodbye Christopher Robin is a drama inspired by the true origin story of Winnie the Pooh, one of history’s most beloved children’s books. The film is directed by Simon Curtis (Woman in Gold, My Week with Marilyn) and stars Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, and Will Tilston. Gleeson plays A. A. Milne, a playwright and World War I veteran. While suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as the frustration of knowing peace will inevitably end, Milne decides to move his wife (Robbie), young son Christopher Robin (Tilston), and governess (Macdonald) to a countryside home, where he is inspired to write a little children’s story that would eventually change the country and, arguably, the world.

While director Simon Curtis is not widely known for his limited directing experience, the film’s recognisable cast and interesting subject matter may be able to attract some audience members to the screens, though its marketing has been less than stellar from a social media perspective. Fox Searchlight’s September release date also indicates that the studio may be positioning it to hopefully accumulate some early Oscar buzz. But will the bees be responding to the honey laid out by the team at Fox? Or will the film be mauled by critics and audiences alike?

Initial Thoughts

While being rather rough around the edges from an editing perspective, Goodbye Christopher Robin is a very engaging film which feels like an honest approach to the lives of individuals experiencing drastic changes in their lifestyles. Spending most of its time in the period of Christopher Milne’s childhood, the film plays on the theme of destruction and unity, and the constant war raging between them. It’s a surprisingly dark biopic with some happy moments but many dark and heartbreaking ones too, representing a bold and commendable move from a filmmaking perspective, but a dangerous one from a commercial viewpoint. Though Winnie the Pooh is a big element of the story, don’t be fooled into thinking this is a movie for children. It might, in fact, bore or even scare them, considering how the film is mostly about the people involved in Pooh’s creation, and the dark and difficult life obstacles they have to face. If you are a fan of biopics or Winnie the Pooh, this may interest you. But if you’re expecting a fun, inspiring story of how a beloved bear came to be, then it’d be best to stay away from it.

Home, I Should Think

Domhnall Gleeson is a tremendous talent that has appeared in numerous films in the 2010s (About Time, Ex Machina, Star Wars Ep. VII), and he leads this film with a very intense performance. One that seems emotionless, but one that often betrays an underlying sincerity. We see this in his interactions with his son Christopher, played extraordinarily by newcomer Will Tilston. How their relationship develops over the course of Goodbye Christopher Robin is easily the best part of the film, as their scenes together build a warm, charming atmosphere that makes us care deeply for these characters when things start to get less rosy. Their satisfying character arcs are what ultimately make the film a solid, emotional experience. The origin of Winnie the Pooh actually takes a back seat to this father-son bond, which is surprisingly the main focus of the film. Also a great presence is Kelly Macdonald, who plays Christopher’s compassionate nanny Olivia, a rock in the young boy’s life and the one character that seems to know how good or bad everything really is in the movie.

The true story of writer A. A Milne and his son’s dramatic rise to fame has many messages relevant to humanity at many levels of society. How fame can blind and destroy love. How youth is destroyed by the impact of a viral medium. And the irony of how hatred of war can lead to the destruction of identity and freedom. Screenwriters Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan expertly weave these themes into the film, the result of which is an exploration of the question: Can fame equal true happiness?

Stuffed with Fluff?

As for flaws, the one thing that sticks out the most in Goodbye Christopher Robin is Margot Robbie’s presence in a lot of the marketing material (undoubtedly due to her star power) but her relatively small and unimportant role in the film. She doesn’t seem to be in the film for very long, and when she is, she isn’t always very likeable, often coming off as a fame-seeking socialite who puts herself above everyone else and has little impact on the film’s overarching narrative. Her excellent acting ability leaves nothing to complain about, but her character is one that is poorly fleshed out. Technically, the film’s editing also lets it down a number of times, with sudden cuts that transition into another scene in a jarring way. On one occasion, a quick cut occurred as the camera’s zoom speed changed, which was also quite distracting.

The film’s dark tone, while not necessarily being a flaw, is also a complicated topic considering how Winnie the Pooh is largely associated with children, and thus I am unsure who the studio is making the film for. While I am judging the film on its own without any knowledge of the true events in A. A Milne and his son’s life, it’s difficult to tell if their lives were really filled with that much darkness, and if so, whether it made sense to produce a film of this sort.

Concluding Remarks

Goodbye Christopher Robin is really a film about the relationship between a father and his son. While many viewers (including myself) would have expected less of this and more of the process of creating Winnie the Pooh, the film nevertheless takes us on a journey which explores fame, freedom and family. And this aspect as well as the excellent performances from its protagonists make the overall watching experience a largely positive one.

Overall Score: 7.8/10

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