Arts & Culture

Wayland ’18.5: ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ overly sentimental, forgettable

By
Arts & Culture Critic
Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A child’s mind is the ultimate theater for imagination, but you’d never know it watching “Goodbye Christopher Robin.” Directed by Simon Curtis, the film stars Domhnall Gleeson as A.A. Milne and Will Tilston as his son, Christopher Robin Milne, and centers around the senior Milne’s creation of the famed Winnie-the-Pooh tales, which were inspired by observing his son’s inventive fantasies. It’s part period piece, part familial drama, part war meditation, part coming of age story — but in the end, “Goodbye Christopher Robin” is just a messy entry and an otherwise forgettable, Oscar-baity biopic.

The film follows Gleeson’s Milne, your classically aristocratic British gent, after he returns home from World War I. Wracked with post-war trauma, Milne struggles to regain a sense of normalcy and eventually moves to the countryside with Christopher, his wife, played by Margot Robbie, and their nanny, played by Kelly McDonald in the film’s strongest acting performance. A series of father-son jaunts in the forest form the backbone for Milne’s eventual Winnie-the-Pooh series, but the film assumes a darker character once unexpected fame hits the family. The parents, who have never treated young Christopher as anything but a nuisance — even arguing at one point over who would have to assume caretaking responsiblities in the event of a divorce — use him as a vehicle to advance their own statuses.

In terms of sentimental biopics, “Goodbye Christopher Robin” skews more sinister and ambiguous than its counterparts, and certainly more willing to air out dirty laundry. But the film ultimately collapses in its attempt to execute those complexities that characterized Milne’s life. Curtis treats his vision with a heavy hand. Transition cuts occur awkwardly, transporting the reader between eras in an act of uncomfortable time-bending. In one scene, Milne charges through a bunker and directly into an English ballroom. Wartime PSTD has been handled better by films with more nuance and originality. Tilston’s Christopher, who has just outgrown the toddler stage of youth, occasionally offers carefully articulated insights that almost felt like he was reading from a script meant for an adult actor.

If these critiques sounds harsh, forgive me. It’s just easy to become frustrated by the type of film Simon Curtis makes. Jeannette Catsoulis of the New York Times writes: “Hollywood greets the end of the year by suddenly noticing that roughly a third of moviegoers (and three-quarters of art-house audiences) are over 50, most of them women. …(It) can lead to theaters clogged with old-lady bait, which usually means something British and upper-crusty, preferably with literary roots. A dollop of war, a death or two, and it’s off to the awards races.”

It’s a style found in “My Week with Marilyn” (which I admittedly enjoyed) and “Woman in Gold,” the last two films Curtis directed. Middlebrow cinema trying to pass for highbrow handles its material with a superciliousness that leaves itself subject to more spiteful criticism. It is precisely that quality that makes “Goodbye Christopher Robin” endlessly more entertaining to lambaste than to actually watch. With that said, don’t let my snobbish judgment stop you from watching the film.