The 400-Word Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin
By Sean Collier
October 31, 2017
Goodbye Christopher Robin is that sneaky sort of sepia-toned Oscar bait: a meretricious pseudo-biopic that appears to rewrite history and delve into the hidden story behind a public figure. It is pleasant enough and well made, to be sure. But ultimately, it shies away from any actual standpoint in pursuit of a happy ending and gauzy sentimentality.
I know I’m saying a movie about Winnie the Pooh lacks bite, but nevertheless.
The loose biopic of Christopher Robin Milne — son of A.A. Milne and inspiration for the series of “Pooh” stories — aims to depict the toll fame took on the lad. Played first by Will Tilston and later by Alex Lawther, the young Milne is raised primarily by a nanny (Kelly Macdonald) thanks to a struggling-artist father (Domhnall Gleeson) and society-obsessed mother (Margot Robbie, who is treated particularly poorly by the screenplay).
The family moves from London to a rural home as the senior Milne struggles with PTSD, a result of his service in World War I. For a few brief weeks, with a mother back in London and a nanny visiting her own family, father and son wander the woods and invent tales of adventure and charm for Christopher Robin’s stuffed animals. Thus is an empire inspired — thrusting Christopher Robin into the spotlight and robbing him of the private world he once love.
It’s somehow both saccharine and drab, but it proceeds with an earnest interest in its central duo for a while. The father’s affliction is explored with caution and care — notable for a time period where the disorder did not even bear a proper name — and the question of whether or not the boy who inspired a beloved world was even happy is one worth asking.
Without spoiling the details, however, all this is thrown away in pursuit of a happy — and fictional — ending. I won’t tell you exactly how Goodbye Christopher Robin turns out, but in real life, he never reconciled with his parents, visiting his father only sporadically and not seeing his mother for the last 15 years of her life.
It is the worst sort of Hollywood ending: One which not only undercuts the truth of the matter at hand but also robs the movie itself of what heft it had. On its surface, it’s not a bad film; in reality, it’s an unfortunate act of compromise.
My Rating: 6/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark