GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (6 out of 10) Directed by Simon Curtis; Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan; Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, Will Tilston; Rated PG for thematic elements, some bullying, war images and brief language; Running time 107 min.
Deep in the 100 acre wood, where Christopher Robin plays . . . “Goodbye Christopher Robin” is a biopic about the story behind Winnie the Pooh and his beloved animal friends. But this film isn’t about the chubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff and Tigger with ADHD and Eeyore with clinical depression. Instead, it focuses on the PTSD of author A.A. Milne and his fractured relationships with his absent, grasping wife and sweet-tempered dimpled son.
The stories of Winnie the Pooh emerged from a man haunted by World War I. So how does a family comprised of a tortured writer, a high society wife, and an adorable little boy become legend? The first step is to move to the countryside.
Milne (portrayed effortlessly by Domhnall Gleeson) moves his family to Sussex to escape the memories of war, and there he and Daphne (Margot Robbie) bicker over his writing until she returns to London to party, leaving their young son Christopher Robin (called Billy Moon and played by adorable Wil Tilston) in the care of his beloved nanny (Kelly Macdonald). But when the nanny leaves to take care of her dying mother, Milne and Christopher Robin are left on their own.
The bulk of the film follows the two as they adventure in the woods, with Christopher Robin using his imagination and patience to help bring his father emotionally back from the war. Young Wil Tilson shines in this role. He is amazing and wonderful and deserves an Oscar. Such range for such a young child.
But the idyllic walks end all too soon when Christopher Robin becomes the star of his father’s stories. Suddenly the press is knocking down their door, and the young boy endures endless publicity stunts and interviews.
The film tries to be sympathetic to some degree of Mrs. Milne, emphasizing how Billy’s birth almost killed her, and she regrets he’s a boy because someday he’ll fight in a war like his father. But since we don’t see inside her psyche, it’s hard to tell if she’s suffering from some degree of postpartum depression or is simply an attention seeker who can’t connect with her son. Though she’s the one that brings him the stuffed animals that ultimately become the inspiration for Pooh and his friends, her presence, and more telling, her absence, appear to have little effect on young Billy. And the real-life Christopher Robin did not speak to his mother in the 15 years following his father’s death, so their relationship was complicated at best.
As Billy/Christopher grows, so does his resentment of his fame, and he is unable to escape Pooh and friends at school or at war. And while the film attempts to end on a high, though rather emotionally manipulative note, we are left with the gnawing feeling that the characters we grew up with came at a very high price.
In the sea of other author biopics (“Finding Neverland,” “Becoming Jane”), “Goodbye Christopher Robin” falls short, feeling more melancholy than anything else, but it is a beautifully made film with a stellar cast. Worth a viewing, especially since it does stick to the true story better than say, “Saving Mr. Banks.”