Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN
Have you always wanted to learn that something you loved so much as a child was the source of another person’s life-long bitterness, grief and resentment? Neither have I. Yet that’s exactly what we get with GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN, a biopic on both the man who created “Winnie The Pooh” and his son, who never wanted to share it with the world. Director Simon Curtis mixes the saccharine and the sour, but the pairing doesn’t ever achieve a palatable blend of its ingredients in the way intended. It’s a waste of a perfectly good Domhnall Gleeson.
Alan Milne (Gleeson) may have left the Western Front, but he still carries his shell-shock with him. His enrapturing wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) provides somewhat of an anchor to reality, though it’s not enough. Wanting to exorcise these demons, Milne sets about to write the great denunciation of war. What a buzzkill. No one wants such dourness in a time of celebration – and they don’t want to learn any lessons from these actions either. It also doesn’t help that he’s got a crippling case of writer’s block too. Nevertheless, things turn around after a weekend spent taking care of his young son Christopher “Billy/ Moon” Robin (Will Tilston) sparks his imagination to create the beloved classic tales of Winnie the Pooh and the Hundred Acre Wood. Only instead of being a bedtime tale for an audience of one, his story creates an insatiable pubic frenzy – one young Billy/ Moon can’t handle.
The unfocused, scatterbrained narrative never quite settles into what kind of story it wants to tell. Trying to hit all the marks, the piecemeal tale hits none of them. It begins by making you think it’ll be told entirely from Alan’s PTSD-riddled POV, which would’ve been great had they stuck with this idea. Midway through, however, it switches to his son’s perspective. Pick your path, guys! Because of the filmmakers’ ham-handedness, Alan and Christopher’s fairly-similar inner conflicts never connect – let alone parallel – when they easily could have done so. It lacks the connective tissue to bring those evident story threads together cohesively. If that’s not enough, it utilizes “in media res” in a stereotypically clichéd manner that adds no more interest to the unfolding narrative than if they had just started from Alan’s war time shell-shock onwards. Plus, it gets really heavy-handed when Kelly Macdonald, who plays Billy/ Moon’s nanny, gets her moment to shine. [Side note: why has cinema failed her this year? First T2 TRAINSPOTTING, and now this.]
Attempts at hyper-stylization add some value to the lackluster shenanigans, but also demonstrate Curtis’ commitment-phobe-like refusal to embrace the artifice. It’s far too fleeting anyways. The visual motif of doorframes (symbolism emphasizing the forward momentum of entering new worlds) is the lone item that thematically connects, though it’s not carried through the entirety of the picture. This feature drips with saccharine that’s spoon-fed to its audience. Ben Smithard’s warm, golden hour cinematography and pushy strings swelling on Carter Burwell’s nauseating score aren’t enough, and most times stand in juxtaposition to how the audience is feeling.
The characterization of Daphne is particularly troubling as it constantly sets her up for the audience’s judgement. Her battling what I can only extrapolate as some sort of a long-term post-partum depression comes across as straight-up unlikeable – to the point of considering this as Robbie’s first role as a real-life villain. She may have been the muse in gifting Billy/ Moon with the stuffed animals that became the whimsical characters in the Hundred Acre Wood stories, but it’s impossible to ignore that the filmmakers pass harsh judgement on her, when Blue, who’s equally as culpable, isn’t held to the same standard. Blue is more a flawed, broken hero than Daphne, who’s “complicated” – which, as we all know from GONE GIRL, is code for bitch.
What’s odd is that screenwriters Frank Cottrell Boyce (MILLIONS) and Simon Vaughn (who wrote the similarly subject-minded A BEAR NAMED WINNIE) should know how screenplays should be structured, yet this feels cobbled together. Sadly, the Wikipedia pages on both Alan and Christopher prove more engaging and informative that this schmaltz-fest.
GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN opens in limited release on October 13.