By Jack Dignan
People change. They change with the times, they change with age, they just change. Places, events, situations, politics. They all change people. Everything, in some capacity, has the power to change you. And that, amongst other things, is what Goodbye Christopher Robin is about. It’s a story of change, or of allowing the change and the causalities of change to develop your individuality. It’s about fame and war and fathers and sons, about family and imagination and childhood innocence. This is the type of film that should be fantastic. And yet, it’s not.
It’s a film about so many things, but on the surface, this is a film about the creation of one of the most beloved characters of all time… Winnie the Pooh. Everybody loves Winnie the Pooh. He’s a character impossible not to love, reuniting adulthood with childhood, while bringing warmth and comfort to those still growing up. The character represents a sort of security blanket, where everything is going to be all right, but the same can’t be said for the story behind it. The life of author Alan Milne is one of heartbreak, sorrow and trauma, and one that could easily lend itself to the big screen.
Yet it doesn’t. It should, but it doesn’t. We have a broken, war-ridden protagonist, played by Domhnall Gleeson, sick of his life and in need of a fresh start. He moves to the country with his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie), where they have a baby. As the baby grows, Alan begins work on a book he hopes will sway young soldiers away from wanting to fight, but it isn’t working out. Nobody wants to read it. Then, something miraculous happens. His son Christopher (Will Tilston), now eight years old, sparks in Alan a new story. A fresh story. The story of a bear and his friends living out in the woods. It’s the story of Winnie the Pooh, and Christopher himself is written in as the main character.
Alas, what brings success also brings turmoil, and the more attention brought on the book, the more attention brought on the boy, much to his dismay. The story of Goodbye Christopher Robin is a fascinating one, executed in a way that makes it quite a bore. We have a story of PTSD, our celebrity obsession, the pointlessness of war and the importance of fatherhood, but it’s all put to waste, with only glimmers of inspiration scattered throughout the runtime. It’s all very monotone and vanilla. A stylistic and promising start shows scatters of hope, but as the plot progresses, it gradually fades away.
Oscar bait is unavoidable. Year after year, we get countless movies made for one reason and one reason only: awards season. Goodbye Christopher Robin is 2017’s biggest Oscar bait thus far. It’s an emotionally manipulative biopic focusing on an important literary figure from a century ago with interwoven themes of war. This is literally everything the Academy would ever look for in a movie, and while it’s not entirely awful, it’s not in any way remarkable. For every interesting idea presented, it’s matched with one that’s considerably stupid.
The performances are good, but they’re too shallow and internal to be remarked as anything special. Micro-acting can be done right. Emotionless performances don’t always equate to bad ones. Ryan Gosling has mastered it, just this year delivering an utterly sensational performance in Blade Runner 2049. But with the performances here, they’re too uninteresting and shy that their brilliance is lost. These are all fantastic actors, but none of them are able to stand out. Not even Margot Robbie steals the show, a very tough thing to do. She’s good, but she’s not great, although it does perhaps have something to do with her underwritten character.
However, the biggest issue here is the choice of protagonist. We focus on Alan Milne, but the real star is Christopher Robin. It still wouldn’t make things great, but shifting the focus onto young Christopher would add a bigger learning curve on the story arc and present the stresses of fame as more dire than that of Milne’s perspective. We would still be able to venture into the themes of war and PTSD, but it’d be represented from an outsider’s perspective, making it a nice change up from the generic depiction we get on screen (and more relatable for those who haven’t experienced war). Plus, we’d be able to delve deeper into Christopher’s relationship with Olive (Kelly Macdonald), his nanny, who was easily the most likeable character of the lot.
It’s further frustrating because, from time to time, we do see things from Christopher’s perspective. Certain scenes are shot from his point of view, especially towards the second act (even if it mostly consisted of him just playing in the woods). There’s no focus. It’s choppy. We jump from Christopher to Alan then back to Christopher, when we should’ve just stayed with him from the very beginning. It’s a horribly misguided biopic with shimmer of greatness, but alas, the great story hidden away is going to have to wait some more.
2 1/2 Stars
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