Nothing says family “fun” like hating your father. At least, not that I can think of. Maybe loving your father could be just as fun, but that’d be a boring movie. Then again, Goodbye Christopher Robin could put Winnie the Pooh to sleep, and all he does during the day is search for honey. Unfortunately, this film should have climbed a bit higher on the snooze tree to find its honey.
Goodbye Christopher Robin chronicles how A.A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) tried to forge a bond with his son, and manage his PTSD after his service during World War I. Milne is depicted as a weak husband, and an even weaker father. Daphne (Margot Robbie), his wife, is shown to clearly to be the dominate figure in the marriage. She is a clear socialite who is unsuited for domestic life. In fact, she barely acknowledges her son’s existence. Daphne’s characterization is the first crack in this screenplay. She’s a one-note character who switches between selfishness, sheer apathy, and weird playfulness. The screenplay tries, at great lengths, to make her the villain. However when she is nice to her son, such as creating voices for the stuffed animals, it comes off as hollow.
Later, the film shifts from the center of London to the country hills of Sussex. Milne decides to move his family because he wants to write a book against war. Daphne, true to form, decides to leave until her husband has come back to his senses. “Duh, duh, duh.” Soon the nanny, Olive (Kelly Macdonald)—the only person who gives a crap about the kid—leaves to care for her dying mother. Milne is left to do the one thing that he probably sucks at, being a father to his son Christopher/Billy Moon (Will Tilston).
Nevertheless, for the forty or so minutes the sequence between father and son lasts, it’s probably the best part of the film and of Christopher’s childhood. While Daphne and the nanny are away, Christopher and his father explore the woods behind their cottage, create stories about stuffed animals, and bond. Many of these scenes are supremely carried by Tilston because he accurately demonstrates what it’s like for a child to starve for attention from the people he wants it from the most, his parents. The pure joy that he shows with his father is probably akin to the exuberance the real Christopher felt.
However, what’s unnerving about these scenes is the sudden switch of tone. The Director, Simon Curtis, wants these scenes to be whimsical, yet he continually tries to inject Milne’s PTSD into the fray. Granted Milne did suffer from this affliction, and it’s important that it be represented, but so often it’s represented clumsily. Anytime a balloon pops there’s a flashback. When Milne and his son are playing in an imaginary snow wonderland, Milne suddenly has a flashback and pushes his son to the ground. Nothing says whimsical like your dad almost killing you. Not to mention, this whole sequence is supposed to last three weeks, but there are only three costume changes for each character. Did Milne and his son not bring other sets of clothes when they moved?
However, from these adventures with Christopher—Milne creates Winnie the Pooh—and in the process, makes his son into a cash cow. Soon, the once idyllic childhood enjoyed by Christopher is turned into an MTV documentary of what happens to child stars. It takes 20 minutes or so, or Olive telling them off for being the worst parents in the world, for Milne and his wife to realize that they’ve royally f-ed their son over. Well, Milne at least. Daphne was still ready to keep the money flowing. Nevertheless, the damage has been done. As Christopher begins to grow up, he’s picked on by kids and has a rather cruddy life. By the time he’s 18 and leaves for World War II, he absolutely despises his parents.
Towards the end, Curtis does try to come to some reconciliation between father and son, but that also rings hollow. Mainly due to the fact that we know, in real life, Christopher never forgave his parents. He was distant from his mother and father for the rest of his life. In real life, Christopher later owned a bookstore, and had a daughter who suffered from cerebral palsy. The film doesn’t delve into that side of Christopher, but I honestly believe that a movie about that man would have been far more interesting than the one presented. Instead, we get a movie that would have made Winnie the Pooh, say “Oh, bother.”
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Photo Credit: BBC America