I was properly taken aback from “Goodbye Christopher Robin”, which consistently defies expectations as to what you’d expect from a Hollywood biopic centred around a beloved franchise. This is not a cloying tribute to a popular children’s series, this is not a mildly interesting “story behind the story” of the family actually behind it. Instead, this is a strikingly unsentimental portrayal of parenthood, and an ugly rumination on how something pure and beautiful (both familial love and the charming “Winnie the Pooh” series itself) can be tainted and ruined by greed and commerce.
It’s no wonder the film legally couldn’t actually use any of the text or illustrations from the actual “Winnie the Pooh” series, as it can certainly be read as condemning the publication of the series in the first place.
While Domhnall Gleeson delivers an excellent performance riding the tricky fluctuations of his “character” A. A. Milne (occasionally surmounting some clunky directorial choices in his characterisation, returning to some rote filmmaking tropes used to portray PTSD), he’s far from the figure of audience sympathy here, as the film is intensely sympathetic to young (and eventually not-so-young) Christopher Robin.
Margot Robbie is less well-served by the film, playing a vital character (Christopher’s mother, Milne’s wife) but afforded less nuance by the script. The film dances around undercutting some of its strength in the apparently obligatory “biopic ending title cards” telling what happened to the real figures involved next – some of the facts lend the film strength, but the characterisations were strong enough and the franchise well-known enough that a “less is more” approach might’ve worked better. Or indeed the opposite – the title card about Christopher Robin not taking the money the franchise garnered (for himself) made a good point, but expanding on his relationship with his parents later in life could have perhaps been an effective underline as well.
A surprising, thoughtful film. Four balloons, and a bear.