Directed by Simon Curtis
Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan
The story of a story is a very interesting genre indeed. I am sure if I gave it more thought I could come up with many examples of a film about an artists work. But when I found out about Goodbye Christopher Robin, a story about how author A.A. Milne would come to know and write about the famed character Winnie the Pooh, and Piglet and Tigger and Eeyore, the 100 Acre Wood and of course Christopher Robin, I immediately thought of the wonderful Marc Forster film Finding Neverland, about how author J.M. Barrie developed the idea for Peter Pan. It would be disingenuous to call this Simon Curtis film a knock off of Finding Neverland, but there are certainly many correlations. However, Goodbye Christopher Robin, regrettably, fails to live up to the charm and distinction of Finding Neverland, though I ought to stop the comparisons there I should think.
Alan Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) has just returned from fighting in the “War to end all wars”, The Great War. An author, Milne returns home to his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie), who supports his work as a playwright. But after having a child, Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), or C.R., they must hire a nanny (Kelly Macdonald) to look after the boy they affectionately call Billy Moon, as they are too preoccupied as socialites in London’s West End. Shaken by PTSD from his time at war, however, Milne soon wishes to move to the countryside to settle in to write his latest book, an essay against war. But once in the countryside, Milne discovers a happiness he has lacked in his life for a great while, as he spends time with his son Billy Moon, making up stories about his stuffed bear in the nearby wood. But when Milne shares these stories with the world, who celebrates them and make the Milne’s very rich, they soon discover the cost of fame, and the lack of privacy.
I have found director Simon Curtis to be quite capable in his first two films, My Week with Marilyn and The Woman in Gold. Neither is fantastic, but both enjoyable. Goodbye Christopher Robin is a jarring treatise on, well, I’m not exactly sure. It is a film with great ambition, both in style and narrative, and yet it often fails at both, while occasionally finding moments of true and brilliant inspiration, making the experience of the film all the more frustrating. At first it appears the film will be about the maladjustment of a soldier back from war, a film about post traumatic stress disorder in Milne. Then it transitions to a very sweet family film about a man coming to love his son. Lastly, the film becomes a very interesting commentary on modern fame and the liberties that are often surrendered in pursuit of this fame; sometimes by the parents of innocent children who find themselves forced into stardom when all they want is to have a childhood they can call their own.
As I said, it is an ambitious film to say the least, and I can very much appreciate everything that the film is striving to accomplish. However, the editing of the film kills both the pacing and the tone of the film, making the finished product appear as a mess of production with no true direction or purpose, no thoroughfare which binds the various themes together. The performances are both warm and genuine from the main leads (Gleeson, Macdonald, Robbie and Tilston), and yet these performances seem to be undermined by the timing of the edits, causing a very choppy and incongruous finished product. The worst offense is a certain departing scene nearer the end of the story wherein it appears Milne very pathetically asks of another character “Please, don’t go.” It comes off as a sarcastic joke instead of the poignant, remorseful request it ought to be.
There is a consistency about this films inability to communicate the things it so terribly wants to communicate. Moments between Milne and his son are beautiful, and even on occasion moved me quite so. But then there is a choppy, awkward edit which betrays the achieved emotion. Ultimately, the narrative arc never feels continuous or finished for me to buy into the sort of emotional connection necessary come the end of the film. There is great joy achieved between characters, yet very little shines through in the end. There is great love achieved between characters, yet very little shines through in the end. There is also great remorse and tragedy achieved between characters, yet very little shines through in the end. Goodbye Christopher Robin cherishes the Winnie the Pooh phenomenon, and Simon Curtis truly appreciates its origins. But his film fails on so many levels to communicate this joy and suffering, that it is only saved by the fleeting glimpses of genuine emotion delivered by the stellar cast.