The story behind Winnie-The-Pooh will get mangled within the insufferable Goodbye Christopher Robin

Photograph: Fox Searchlight
Lead

C-

Solid

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

Availability

Choose theaters October 13

A.A. Milne, who was a second-rate playwright and poet, by some means created good, delightfully written kids’s literature together with his tales of Winnie-The-Pooh, Piglet, and the opposite denizens of the Hundred Acre Wooden. How did he do it? Goodbye Christopher Robin, an insipid and miscalculated drama concerning the English author’s household life, insinuates that it had one thing to do together with his inadequacies as a father or mother and a social critic; it is a man who can barely find time for his son, Christopher Robin “Billy Moon” Milne, and who harrumphs, “I’ve had sufficient of constructing folks giggle—I need to make them see!” (Sadly, the road is unintentionally humorous.) For authorized causes, the movie doesn’t embrace a phrase of Milne’s writings or any of E. H. Shepard’s unique illustrations. As a substitute, director Simon Curtis, the purveyor of such middlebrow fluff as Woman In Gold and My Week With Marilyn, lays the sentimental hues and sunbeams on thick, hoping that someone will give a shit.

Cast as a character seen mostly in middle age, the still boyish Domhnall Gleeson plays Milne stiffly, aided by aging make-up that sometimes makes him look like Billy Drago in The Untouchables. We are introduced to him in a sequence of pointlessly nested flashbacks, conveyed through tacky match cuts. An angry, fiftysomething Milne pitches a cricket ball in slow motion and—voilà!—it becomes a grenade sparkling over the trenches of World War I; he lumbers into a dugout and—presto!—he is wearing a tux at one of those posh society gatherings where the guests speak exclusively in exposition. The Great War is over, and Milne is trying to get his writing career back on track, despite the post-traumatic panic attacks that will eventually lead him to relocate from noisy London to a quiet house near the East Sussex woodlands, which will end up inspiring Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood.

Unlike the similar-in-concept Finding Neverland and Saving Mr. Banks—which sugarcoated the creepy, tragic stories and bitter personality conflicts behind Peter Pan and the Disney version of Mary PoppinsGoodbye Christopher Robin at least tries to make something out of Milne’s personal flaws by putting his shaky relationship with his young son (Will Tilston), who inspired the Winnie-The-Pooh stories, front and center. Raised mostly by his nanny, “Nou” (Kelly Macdonald), young Billy Moon rarely spends time with his father or his mother, Daphne (Margot Robbie, doing a drama-kid approximation of an upper-class Brit). The success of Pooh turns the little boy into a child celebrity, subjected to exploitative radio interviews and terrifying publicity stunts with real bears.

There might be the makings of a much darker story buried in the sickly, syrupy goo. But Goodbye Christopher Robin can barely articulate itself; Curtis’ sense of such basics as the passage of time is baffling, and his clunky, stage-and-BBC-trained style is inevitably constrained by the performances (mostly thankless) and by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan’s clumsy script. Never hinting at the wit or philosophizing of the Pooh stories, the film mostly makes Milne look like an inexpressive hack. Maybe there’s some element of a self-portrait in there.

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