It's biopic season in Hollywood, as everyone's trying to get their ducks in a row for prestige power plays during this year's awards derby. So naturally, now's a good time for Goodbye Christopher Robin to make its debut. What will make a truly lasting impression is the performances central to the film's narrative. However, your post-viewing conversation won't be giving many points to the underdeveloped, but still serviceable story.
Everyone knows Winnie the Pooh, but not as many folks remember playwright / author A.A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson), the man that brought his world to life. Traumatized by his experience serving during World War I, he and his wife (Margot Robbie) pack up their cosmopolitan lives in London, as well as their son and his nanny (Will Tilston and Kelly MacDonald), and head for the countryside. There, he'll find his greatest inspiration, and ultimately define his and his family's legacy, as well as his relationship with those around him.
Goodbye Christopher Robin, at its best, is a heartwarming drama that shows a man recovering from the traumas of war through his son's imagination. It's here that Gleeson and newcomer Tilston truly shine, as their discovery and development of both Winnie's universe, and their relationship as father and son, are totally endearing. These two do most of the heavy listing in the film's acting department, with Kelly MacDonald picking up a good portion of the film herself, but make no mistake about it -- this is Domhnall Gleeson and Will Tilston's show, and they both deliver with fantastic performances. For Gleeson, this is a commanding bid for more leading roles, rather than the stellar supporting work he's found in recent years. For Tilston, this is a sterling debut that should put him on a path of success, as he is a young talent that could go exceedingly far, with the right development.
Thought Milne's recovery does come at a cost in Goodbye Christopher Robin, as his relationship with his newly famous son, the latter being the basis for Christopher Robin, turns for the worse as the film heads towards its end. Unfortunately, in both its first act introduction to A.A. Milne's life and struggle with PTSD, as well as the film's conclusion, which sees his son sent off to war in World War II, the story seems to rush through the motions. Even Margot Robbie's Daphne, despite being solid work from a very talented actor, is barely a part of the film's narrative, part of which is chalked up to her character's history, but the rest of which is part of an underwritten presence. In this form, it's still pretty good, but if the film's story were punched up with some extra time in either of those areas, it might have been a great film.
As a completed product, Goodbye Christopher Robin is a bit more sanitized than it should be, lacking the punch and detail that would have really sold its point. The PG rating dampens the brutality of the Great War suffered by Milne Sr., so seeing his recovery isn't as effective as it would be given a more traumatizing experience for our lead. That said, there's still plenty of charm to spare in director Simon Curtis' film, and there's definitely a good amount of warmth. Discarding historical inaccuracies, much like one would with say Saving Mr. Banks, Goodbye Christopher Robin is a beautiful testament to a father, his son, and the world they created that we all know and love.