Goodbye Christopher Robin

Posted: November 3, 2017 at 1:53 a.m.

Little cricketeer Christopher Robin (Will Tilston) enjoys some rare time with his dad, writer A.A. Milne ( Domhnall Gleeson) in Goodbye Christopher Robin.

Making a movie about a writer is inherently challenging because it's difficult to care about watching someone in the act of writing. As the great philosopher Butt-Head eloquently put it, "If I wanted to read, I'd go to school."

You don't have to be in school to enjoy the work of Alan Alexander Milne (Domhnall Gleeson). His Winnie the Pooh stories have entertained generations of children and their parents because they aren't simply age appropriate. They're also side-splittingly funny. Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga and the other residents of the Hundred Acre Wood get into comic mishaps and manage to be endearing in the process.

Goodbye Christopher Robin

76 Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, Will Tilston, Alex Lawther, Stephen Campbell Moore

Director: Simon Curtis

Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements, some bullying, war images and brief language

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

As a child, my brother and I could tell our mother to read Milne's stories to us because she loved them as much as we did. Perhaps director Simon Curtis (Woman in Gold) and screenwriters Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan figured that Milne's stories were so much a part of western culture that they didn't need much repeating to tell their creator's story.

Unfortunately, without the charm of Milne's tales, Goodbye Christopher Robin feels hollow. Milne named the boy in his stories after his own son (Will Tilston). Millions were eager to hear of the real boy who lived with the make-believe creatures inspired by his toys, so the lad wound up getting far more attention than he could ever want.

The tales came out just as radio and print were reaching into people's homes, and Milne's fans thought they knew his son better than the young man knew himself. It's hard to be anonymous when there are countless pictures of you in bookstores everywhere.

In the film, Christopher actually sees relatively little of his parents because his father is still trying to recover from the emotional scars he suffered in World War I. He's unable to reflect on the horrors well enough to warn future generations not to repeat the War to End All Wars, so he's surprised that playing with his son reopens his creative flood gates.

If Milne could be absent, his wife, Daphne (Margot Robbie), disappears for months at a time because she has her son without comprehending the challenges of motherhood and gets frustrated with her husband's frequent bouts of writer's block. The only person who seems to be actually raising Christopher is his nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald). She understands him in a way that his parents don't and resents him becoming a marketing tool.

Without sampling Milne's wit, it's hard to understand why the books are selling and why the public is clamoring for a glimpse of the real Christopher Robin. Gleeson is appropriately sullen, but Curtis and the screenwriters never reveal why anyone would care about his books or him. Despite the actor's valiant efforts, the film reduces him to the sort of cartoon that illustrated Milne's stories and poems.

Daphne seems even sketchier. In The Wolf of Wall Street and other films, Robbie has emerged as an actress with astonishing range, but here she doesn't get to do much other than make up cute voices for the toys and glower at Gleeson.

Despite some lovely photography from Ben Smithard, the closing title cards before the final credits start rolling are more interesting than the footage that preceded them. To be honest, I don't envy Cottrell Boyce or Vaughan. Milne's story is difficult to tell, and it's even harder to match the intoxicating glory of his own writing.

MovieStyle on 11/03/2017