Any way you look at it, Game of Thrones is a clever, complex, multilayered show.
Part of its appeal is that it invest meaning in every scene, every characters words and actions, with nothing left to chance.
As the knowledgeable people at ScreenPrism beautifully explain, this extends to its use of symbolism with each of the main houses in the tale of medieval power and desire represented by key, specifically-chosen imagery.
As the video details how each house is carefully and thoughtfully represented, you’re reminded once again why this show is so popular, why that adulation is so thoroughly deserved, and why it will be sorely missed once the final season hits our screens in 2018 or 2019.
A sitcom staple in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Perfect Strangers was a delightful, if unchallenging, tale of two distant cousins, one American-born, another an immigrant, who have to overcome all kinds of cultural and other hurdles to arrive at something approaching domestic bliss.
The humour was more than a little obvious and clunky at times, but such was the likeability of Balki Bartokomous (Bronson Pinchot) and Larry Appleton (Mark Linn-Baker) and so endearing their dynamic that you wanted to spend time with the guys.
Now years after the show ended its eight-season run in 1993, Jimmy Kimmel Live has revived the show by bringing a new cast member – Dem O’Gorgon, who looks suspiciously like the monster from Stranger Things‘ Upside Down.
He proves to be an interesting new housemate who doesn’t respond well to being asked to move out – let’s just say so effective is his rebuttal that he’s allowed to stay – and views Balki and Larry’s pet dog as more snack than canine companion.
And poor old Will? Well, when the Stranger Things gang, minus Eleven and Max, turns up, he ends up in a very familiar situation. Uh-oh …
But hey, when everything gets a little awkward, there’s always Perfect Strangers‘ much-loved Dance of Joy to get everyone in the mood for a heartwarming montage.
Bodie Troll won’t like me telling you this so shhhhh, but good lord, he’s freaking adorable.
Yes, yes I know, trolls aren’t supposed to be adorable or sweet or lovely or Anne of Green Gables meets Pollyanna wonderful or in fact anything good, wholesome and kind.
They are, as Bodie tells anyone who will listen, monstrously cruel, challenging goats on bridges and eating those that refuse to comply, sending villagers running to their homes in search of safety and just plain irascibly nasty and difficult.
Well, that’s the PR anyway.
Unfortunately, or fortunately if you’re one of the people who loves him such as barmaid at The Drunken Pumpkin and aspiring thespian, or even tolerates him such as magical spatula-waving fairy godmother Miz Bijou, Bodie Troll, who lives under a bridge outside the fantastical medieval village of Hagardorn, is nothing like the trope.
Not even close to it, in fact.
Sure he can be cranky and cantankerous and more than a little irritable but he’s also charming, helpful, kind and has been known to look after babies that poop fertiliser and rain down big, heavy objects from the sky.
In other words, to his unending frustration, he’s too damn nice for his own good.
And that is the central joke in Jay Fosgitt’s utterly beguiling comic Bodie Troll, released in 2013 as a four-part series (yeah I’m a little to this particularly delightful party), followed up in 2014 and 2015 with Free Comic Day issues, augmented by a new 4-part 2016 series “Fuzzy Memories” and soon to be added to by a brand-new graphic novel this year via Boom! Studios.
What makes Bodie Troll work so beautifully is that it’s no one-joke pony, or troll.
Granted there is a great deal of silliness at work here and the jokes fly thick and fast, many of them drawn from the premise of an adorable troll who wishes he wasn’t, but there’s a great deal of heart at work here too.
In fact, you can easily see how Jim Henson, who most famously gave us the Muppets, is an inspiration for Bodie Troll, with Fosgitt having this to say about what he wanted to bring to this most beguiling and amusing of comic creations:
“My inspiration for Bodie Troll was my love of fairytales, folklore, and mythology … I wanted to imbue it with anachronistic humor to make the characters and their stories relatable to our own world, while having a warm heart at the center of the silliness. I wanted to create something that Jim Henson would have appreciated.” (Bleeding Cool)
The Henson element is very much in evidence with the anarchic goofiness of the Muppets and their intrinsic humanity very much on display.
Even more than that though, there are elements of Asterix, both in the writing and the artwork, which recalls the great artist of that French series, Albert Uderzo, and even Calvin & Hobbes capacity for the philosophical and the gleefully, cleverly over-the-top.
For all those influences, and Fosgitt uses them and others well, Bodie Troll is a singularly unique creation, a figure all of his own making who you can help but fall in love with (even though Bodie would, naturally, hate the very idea of that).
In the middle of monsters hatching from giant eggs, poop fertilising babies who come from on high and news delivered, with nakedly obvious product placement, by Socko the sock puppet, and even magically transformative lipstick (which Bodie hilariously does not take full advantage of), there’s staunch friendship, flawed by rewarding friendships and a sense that Bodie’s real quest in life is not to scare or eat goats – “That’d be gross” he declares – but to accept who he is, kindhearted soul and all.
There’s absolutely no chance that he will ever be asked to join Mordor’s army or rip the head off an old dame in search of her hens and honestly, that’s OK.
After all, spend any time at all with Bodie’s funny irascibility and all you want to do is hug him tight as Cholly often does, wish him well, as the villagers almost always do, and may even buy him a drink or some grubby, floor-sourced root vegetables.
You will also want to keep laughing at his unending frustration that he isn’t what he wishes he was, the distillation of anyone who has ever wished they were something they are not and never will be.
In Bodie Troll, Fosgitt has given us an immersively lovely tale that anyone who has ever struggled to accept themselves will take enormous pleasure in; for not only does it reaffirm that you’re fine just the way you are, even if you won’t accept it, but that flying against type is actually a pretty cool thing to be, and far better than being the same as everyone else.
Set on a stretch of highway just outside the imagined utopia of Disney World, The Florida Project follows six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her rebellious mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) over the course of a single summer. The two live week to week at “The Magic Castle,” a budget motel managed by Bobby (Willem Dafoe), whose stern exterior hides a deep reservoir of kindness and compassion.
Despite her harsh surroundings, the precocious and ebullient Moonee has no trouble making each day a celebration of life, her endless afternoons overflowing with mischief and grand adventure as she and her ragtag playmates—including Jancey, a new arrival to the area who quickly becomes Moonee’s best friend—fearlessly explore the utterly unique world into which they’ve been thrown. Unbeknownst to Moonee, however, her delicate fantasy is supported by the toil and sacrifice of Halley, who is forced to explore increasingly dangerous possibilities in order to provide for her daughter. (synopsis via Coming Soon)
It’s patently untrue to say that children aren’t unaffected by the world around them.
But in Sean Baker’s The Florida Project – baker gave us the sublimely insightful Tangerine – we bear witness to the beautiful way in which children, in this case Moonee, played with delightful joie de vivre by Brooklynn Prince, and her friend Jancey interpret the highly unorthodox world in which they live through the innocence of childhood.
It may sound cute and cloying but as The Ebert Report notes in its glowing review, it is anything but:
“If I tell you that it consists largely of the adventures of these precocious motel-residing kids, it would probably sound like some horribly cloying piece of Hollywood trash, those movies that idealize youth and really look down on poverty. Baker does neither. And the tonal balancing act of “The Florida Project” is the main thing that makes it so breathtaking.
“We basically journey through the day-to-day life of a wide-eyed, funny, creative kid, the kind who puts a dead fish in the pool to bring it back to life and turns off the power to the entire motel just to see what happens. There’s nothing overly special about Moonee or her life in typical movie ways. Every day is a bit of an adventure for Moonee, but Baker is careful not to romanticize that at the same time. He recognizes that Moonee is kind of a unique kid, the sort who can get a kick out of making noises into an oscillating fan or brushing her doll’s hair in the tub, but he never makes her into a precocious Hollywood cliche of the wide-eyed innocent.”
The film sounds real and delightful, gritty and sweet all at once, the kind of story that reaffirms that even in the most dire of circumstances that kids can see magic, accepting their reality as if it’s just the way things are and just making the most of things.
The Florida Project opens in UK 10 November and Australia on 21 December.
From pretty much every conceivable angle, getting married is a pretty wonderful thing.
There’s all that true love forever after (well until the divorce papers are served; whoops, kinds broke the romantic spell there), committing yourself to that special someone, friends and family looking on, dressing up, dressing down (OK that’s way later), eating and drinking lots, and the start of the rest of your life.
And yet for all that wonder and fabulousness, there’s a whole lot of anxiety and worry and often unspoken musings about What a Big Deal This Is.
Unspoken unless you’re book jacket writing, plane-phobic Ben Holmes (Ben Affleck) and you’ve just met a wild, unpredictable woman (Sarah Lewis played by Sandra Bullock) who’s making you question pretty much everything you’ve taken for granted up to this point.
Like your nauseating love – it’s true; just ask his fellow plane passengers – for fiancée Bridget (Maura Tierney), a Savannah belle who has committed the unpardonable sin of falling for a New York City northerner or your lack of willingness to climb onto the top of stopped trains and scream at the sunset.
Or, and here’s a corker for an avowed heterosexual man, performing a sexy striptease in front of a bunch of enthusiastic gay men in small-ish town America.
That’s a whole lot of questioning to pack into two action-packed days but Ben manages it, egged on by Sarah who hasn’t yet met an unorthodox experience she doesn’t want to try on for size.
Sarah, as is the way of romantic comedy meet-cutes, meets Ben on a plane to Savannah from New York – he to get married, she to sell a bagel bakery and give the money to her estranged six year old son – and they hit it off immediately, with Ben rescuing an unconscious Sarah when their plane crashes off the runway.
This sets in motion a cavalcade of comedic events which runs the gamut from hitching a ride with a possible pedophile and definite drug user Vic (Jack Kehler), either having their worldly good stolen or left behind on a train, mixing it with a group of retired people on a bus to buy property in Florida all while pretending to be married and a doctor … and not getting anywhere close to Savannah for the wedding Ben isn’t even sure he wants anymore.
Sure two days is quick but it makes sense, well rom-com sense anyway and that’s all that matters here, that Ben would go from staid grey-suit wearing monogamous husband-to-be to a man who seriously considers dumping it all and running away with Sarah who has more than a few troubles of her own.
This is where Forces Of Nature, directed by Bronwen Hughes to a script by Marc Lawrence, shows it’s a tad smarter than the average rom-com.
In just about any other rom-com, Bridget would be shown to be some morally-questionable soul who doesn’t really deserve Ben’s (mostly) unwavering love and Sarah, though she has a chequered romantic and work history and isn’t the best mum in the world, would be shown to have a heart of gold behind her wild child persona.
All neat and tidy, our two protagonists ride away on a bus full of pensioners and the world celebrates two lovestruck soulmates finding each other in the most unlikely of circumstances.
Only that’s not how it goes and Forces of Nature is all the better for it.
It dares to ask whether meet-cutes are the be-all-and-end-all, especially ones which take place in exceptional situations are really all that.
In this instance, Sarah, who has everything to gain from winning Ben over – her choice in husbands isn’t the best and her love-torn travelling companion is a significant step up for her in innumerable ways – is the voice of reason, cautioning Ben not to get carried away despite the chemistry and obvious connection between them.
Ben, of course, doesn’t buy any of her wise words of caution but you know as he arrives in Savannah, late for the wedding which is being blown to smithereens by a hurricane, that Sarah will likely be proven, with quite a bit more life experience in the school of hard knocks behind her, to be the one who had her finger on the pulse.
That’s not say that she’s not tempted to run to Ben’s sane and sensible promised land but she’s wise enough to know that while Ben is in a maelstrom of doubt about love, monogamy and the whole forever package thanks to monogamy doubters like his grandfather, a fellow airline passenger, Vic and even his best man and best friend Alan (Steve Zahn), that he’s exactly the sort of person who can make monogamy and marriage work.
Sarah? Not so much sadly.
She is the most unlikely of rom-com in-love wannabes – garrulous and fun-loving sure but flighty, impetuous, spontaneous to a fault, a woman who can never quite get a good grip on the brass ring that dangles before her over and over but never quite swings into range.
Forces of Nature gives her a qualified happy ending of sorts but it’s not what you expect, nor is Ben’s final act what the rom-com gods normally hand down, and it lends the film way more gravitas than you expect it to have at the start.
Visually the film is a treat, weaving together some very cool scenes such as Ben and Sarah running through the rain, shot from above, every catchy moment paired with a rip-roaringly good late ’90s soundtrack that offers up gems from the likes of Touch & Go, Propellerheads, Swervedriver and Tricky.
Every single song seems to have its perfect moment in the cinematic sun, adding to the scene they’re in, bolstering the narrative rather than simply adorning it.
Thrown in some genuinely heartbreaking, melancholic moments, in a rom-com no less and Forces of Nature delivers an outlier story of romance that isn’t wholly beholding to the tropes, offers characters with some depth, and actually ventures a little into the grim realities of life.
Not a huge way – a grim tale of love lost this is not – but enough that what Ben and Sarah goes through feel joyously and painfully real all at once, added some much-needed authenticity and spicy to ye olde romantic comedy recipe.
If you saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and seriously if you haven’t why not, you will remember it is one of the darkest, most bloody films in the franchise’s considerable canon.
Telling the story of the intrepid band of brave rebels who successfully managed to get the plans for the Death Star, thus making Star Wars: A New Hope a whole heap more inspiring than it might have been, and who – SPOILER ALERT!!! – all die in the process, valiantly and heroically.
It’s an impressive film given its gritty authentically and war movie heart-on-the-sleeve emotional resonance, and of the heroes of the saga is Chirrut Imwe, a blind warrior monk on the ancestral home of the Force, Jedha, whose often-uttered mantra was “I’m one with the Force; the Force is with me.”
In Rogue One, he is as badass as they come, taking out a host of Imperial bad guys with nary a backward glance or a reluctant moment, all the while devoted to his religious beliefs and his craft.
The good folks at How It Should Have Ended, decided to burnish his impressive fighting prowess by creating a four-minute humourous homage to the great man, Chirrut Versus Everything: Lego Star Wars Parody in tandem with the Brotherhood Workshop, which sees the fearless take on everyone, and I mean everyone. It’s fantastically, brilliantly over the top and trust me, you will love it.
Just thinking that we shouldn’t try this at home in our battles with the Empire OK? After all, are we blind Force-ian monks with unparalleled martial arts skills? No, no we are not.
Have you ever wished ABBA could be your life guides, there in the tough times with words of advice, leaping out of your bedroom wardrobe to give you company when you’re all alone, and, of course, singing you into a better frame of mind with songs like “Dancing Queen”, “Super Trouper” and “I Do I Do I Do I Do I Do”?
No? Well, you may want to reconsider that particular life choice after seeing Muriel’s Wedding the Musical, based on P. J. Hogan’s hit 1994 hit film which put Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths on the acting map and convinced a whole generation of the unloved and the socially ostracised that they could triumph over the beautiful people of the world.
In this lengthened, feel good makeover of the original film, which retains the pointed social commentary and darker themes while bringing in some bright, punchy, walking-on-air moments that will have you skipping, out of the theatre on a cloud of confected, candy-coloured joy, ABBA take on an even more central role than in the film that played a pivotal role in bringing them well and truly back into the zeitgeist.
While their songs are now threaded through a feast of catchy, infectiously-hummably and lyrically-sharp songs by husband-and-wife creative team, Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall, the Swedish foursome, dressed in some of their most iconic, fabulous costumes, play the part of guardian angels and life coaches to Muriel (played with daggy vivacity and sheer likeability by newcomer Maggie McKenna).
In Muriel’s more emotionally-downtrodden moments, and they’re a quite a few for the social outcast from Porpoise Spit in Queensland, ABBA steps out of wardrobes, shadows and stand atop a cruise ship stage to bolster the much-loved underdog’s slog to get to a place of emotional authenticity and self-acceptance.
But charming, funny and pitch-perfect though they are, ABBA (Benny (Aaron Tsindos), Björn (Mark Hill), Agnetha (Jaime Hadwen) and Anni-Frid (Sheridan Harbridge)) are not the only attractions in this superlatively good musical which updates Muriel’s Wedding into the social media age with some witty observations on the superficial banality of modern life and how that has exaggerated, rather than lessened, the great divide between the social haves and the social have-nots.
The song “Shared, Viral, Linked, Liked” is a highlight in this regard, performed with synchronised robotic brilliance by Muriel’s chief tormentors who are given catty fabulousness by Laura Murphy, Christie Whelan Browne, Hilary Cole and Marion Gunderson-Briggs.
From the opening number, “Sunshine State of Mind”, when the buffed and tanned residents of Porpoise Spot, parade out, surfboards underarm and swimming costumes on full perpetually summery display, we’re treated to a full-on bright and effervescent pop spectacle that, allied with Gabriela Tylesova’s minimalist but colourfully evocative sets, can’t help but place in an almost giddy paroxysm of delight.
With ABBA as a wryly observant chorus, a slew of witty, clever commentaries on life in Sydney (which contains a gloriously diverse nod to everything from hipsters and leather daddies to punks and drag queens) where you can be anything you want to be; well beside a parking inspector anyway, and a willingness to be a silly as it is profoundly insightful, Muriel’s Weddingthe Musical is a joy, an at-turns laugh-out-loud, dark and sombre (it’s not all a whirlwind of pretty hype) romp through life’s many contrary moments.
Enlarging on the narrative of the original, the production, directed by Simon Phillips, gives us the happy ending that the more taciturn cinematic original denied us; in the film the ending is damn near obligatory and works potently to cap off the themes it explores.
The musical, of course, since it’s not Les Miserables, and almost no one dies (save for Muriel’s poor benighted mother (Justine Clarke) for whom death is a release from the travails of being married to Mayor Bill Hislop (played with greasy, desperate perfection by Gary Sweet) amps the happy ending, throwing in a romantic comedy happy-ever-after with parking inspector Brice Nobes to add to the defiant “f**k you!” to Porpoise Spit and its small-minded shallowness that caps off both film and musical.
The key themes remain throughout, most notably the idea that you have far more value as a person by remaining true to yourself that you ever do by pretending to be someone you’re not.
As Muriel, who rechristens herself Mariel in Sydney where she comes of age but loses sight of her unique individuality, discovers, in a world now rendered ever more deceptive by the false lure of social media “intimacy”, there’s not a lot to be gained by trading your true self for a confected counterfeit, no matter how alluring it might be.
Heavy message maybe but delivered with a vivacity and truthfulness so rich and uplifting, thoughtful and infectiously happy, that you will hit the footpath after the show humming a slew of the tunes, all of which, including five or six all-cast showstoppers, punctuate the narrative with such delicious and wholly welcome joy that you will wonder how you ever got through life without this wonderful musical to illuminate (and soundtrack) the way.
Gifted with a preternatural ability to locate missing objects in a dazzlingly wide variety of circumstances the length and breadth of New York City, he lives with his mother Lucy at a bakery where the pastries and desserts come alive with such sparkling vivacity that crowds flock to buy them, eat them and be nourished by the communal feel of this thoroughly unique store.
The magically real bakery is his great redoubt – a place of sanctuary for the 13 year old who, due to a motor speech disorder known as Childhood Apraxia of Speech, which means the thoughts in his head end up garbled when he tries to articulate them (it’s in the same class as stuttering) , is socially isolated and bullied, a world unto himself save for the fortifying closeness of his mother and the two bakery employees who are more like family, José and Flora.
He tells himself he is okay with this state of affairs, that it is the price he pays for being different to everyone around him.
But on one transformative day, when the book of seven brilliantly-coloured drawings given by a grateful customer in exchange for a selfless act of kindness by Lucy, that normally sits in the shop window, goes missing Walter sets out to find it, discovering as he does so that many of his assumptions about himself aren’t borne out by lessons he learns from coming into contact with a diverse array of people.
In many ways, as he meets everyone from an elderly Chinese-American widow with a fondness for Caravelle chocolate bars to a street person named Nico with a ready wit and a cheeky grin to a young school girl named Ruby who lives in a well-appointed apartment building to a grieving widower with a mission to complete, Walter comes to understand that he, as much as the objects he is so skilled at finding, needs to be found too, along with his real, not assumed, place in the world.
“During five years of finding, I have learned that everyone loses things, musicians and non-musicians alike – the elderly when they forget and the young when they don’t pay attention and the middle-aged when there are too many things to do. In the things they look for, parts of people turn clear as glass and you can see into them and what they are made of and how they live, without needing to exchange so many words.” (P. 25)
His mission is impelled by an urgent need to save the bakery from closing down.
Without the book to sustain its life-giving magical aura, the crowds drift off, the baked goods Lucy creates with an almost supernatural genius and intuition loses their zest, and Walter’s world comes very close to disappearing forever.
If it sounds like there is a heady, intoxicating blend of magical realism at work in this absolutely delightful and deeply emotional insightful book, you would be right.
At every stage of the narrative, Keller, for whom The Lustre of Lost Things is her debut novel, infuses Walter’s achingly authentic search for connection and meaning with an effervescent buoyant super-realism that enchants and adds a gorgeous sheen to some very real, very confronting truisms.
It almost feels like a fairytale, and in a great many ways it is, with Walter’s ceaseless day-long quest taking him from one end of New York to the other, above and beyond ground, on foot and by subway in an attempt to recover the book and the precious seven drawings within, that seem to have scattered to the four winds, taking the fate of the shop, his mother Lucy, his made family and himself with it.
Everything hinges on Walter being successful, and regardless of whether the magic is real or simply a confidence emboldened by the book’s presence – I like to believe the former since Keller makes it all sound so beguilingly otherworldly and immersive – the key to keeping it alive is for Walter to go far beyond his self-imposed limits and see what truly lies out beyond the confines of the bakery, and within himself.
If it all sounds a little twee, it is anything but.
Keller grounds Walter at every stage in a grinding realism that, while accented and burnished by magical wonder, contains the kind of realities a 13 year old boy should never have to grapple with.
He longs for his father Walter Lavender Sr, to walk back in the door, feeling like he’s missing out on a host of life lessons that went to the bottom of the ocean when his father, an international pilot, went down with his plane in unexplained circumstances.
His journey teaches him that while he may have lost some things due to his father’s absence, that he is anything but alone in the world, and certainly not bereft of a great many valuable life lessons; even so, The Lustre of Lost Things is also quick to recognise that things are lost when people are lost and at no point does Keller lessen their emotional or physical impact with glib magical feyness.
It’s all very real, and Walter, keenly and almost painfully self-aware despite his appealingly buoyant tenacity, knows it all too well.
The joy in this extraordinarily uplifting yet immensely emotionally substantial book is the way Keller depicts anyone who has ever felt alone or lost in the world – every last person Walter meets has lost someone or something that defined or made them in some way, and that loss, coupled with decisions made in the wake, has come to profoundly shape their lives.
“I’d told myself that I was alone because I was different – I had a disorder, I nad no dad. Because of who I was, I would always be lonely, separated. I could not be any other way. But I have met the rat-couple and I am forced to see how I, like them, have chosen to give up and be alone, and to be content in a world of my own. This was not how I was meant to be; itw as how I had decided to be.
“At least they accpepted the reality of their choice and did not try to convince themselves otherwise. I wrapped myself in the warmth of the shop and I convinced myself that when I learned about people through their lost things, these temporary, one-sided reprieves meant that I was not actually alone.” (P. 169)
It is a realisation Walter comes to as his found family expands considerably, he is able to extend kindness, much like mother, and reportedly his father, before him to those people and the selflessness that led to the creation of the book and the rise and rise of the bakery’s success, is extended and perpetuated in touching and beautiful ways.
As a child who experienced incessant, souk-destroying bullying almost all my way through school, and felt cut off from the world as a result, Keller’s down-to-earth yet poetically-articulated thoughtful insights on the way we handle trauma, large or small, is reassuring or instructive.
It never minimises or dismisses the effects of life’s less kind moments, of its loss and regret, its pain and its suffering; on the contrary it acknowledges them front on and without any attempts to explain them away with a sweet Hallmark-ian loveliness (thought that is there is crucial and life-affirming ways that will warm your soul and life your spirit).
What this immeasurably beautiful, quirky and delightful book does do is take those unescapable realities of life and look at the fact that it is we who choose how they affect us, how they mold and break or make us; that’s not to say the responsibility solely falls to us, since it would place an unbearable burden on shoulder already weakened by a great many sad and terrible things.
Rather that we can take these lost and leached-away things and decide to counter them however it makes sense to us – in Walter’s case, it’s by slowly embracing his new expanded, socially-full reality – and in the process, find a great many things we lost and quite possibly, a great many new things besides.
You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who didn’t spend their childhood, in some form or another, wandering through the Hundred Acre Wood with Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet and the rest of A. A. Milne’s wonderful coterie of honey-loving friends.
There was something, and still is if you care to read the books as an adult (you likely need their message of friendship and inclusion now more than ever anyway), ineffably comforting about taking a step or two back from the everyday and imagining a world where Pooh Sticks and flying into the sky under a red balloon and trying to find where the Woozle wasn’t are part and parcel of a carefree child-like world.
But as much as we like to think of Winnie the Pooh as real, and in my heart he will always feel that way, the truth is he and the others were the creations of A. A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson), based on the toys given to his son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston/Alex Crawther) by his considerably disengaged but loving mother Daphne (Margot Robbie).
Milne, who has come to be largely defined by Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) and The House at Pooh Corner (1928), was first and foremost a celebrated playwright, a man who had survived the horrors of trench warfare in World War 1 with a strong and understandable anti-war stance.
Anxious after the war to make a statement on the futility of armed conflict, he instead found himself, under commercial pressures since he was assured that no one wants to know about war and its unpalatable realities, writing plays such as the celebrated Mr Pim Passes By (1919) and of course the Pooh books and their attendant books of poems such as When We Were Very Young (1924) and Now We Are Six (1927).
They were almost immediate successes, thrusting Milne, but more importantly and somewhat damagingly Christopher Robin into a noisy, cacophonous media spotlight, the kind of tumult that Milne had sought to avoid when he moved his family to the bucolic idyll of rural Sussex, rather fortuitously near Ashdown Forest which became in time the much-storied Hundred Acre Wood.
Milne’s wife Daphne, a socialite who reveled in the noise and excess of London, wasn’t as much of a fan of this tree change as the two Milne boys who initially struggled to form a connection, even with far more time on their respective hands.
As Christopher Milne explains in his delightfully conversational but sometimes painfully honest memoir The Enchanted Places, this was partly due to the presence of Nanny (Kelly Macdonald) who he adored and who was, for all intents and purposes his mother and father figure up until the age of nine.
It wasn’t until she left the family’s employ – in the film this is due to a clash with Daphne who seems to resent the fact that Nanny has assuming the prime parenting role, despite the fact that Mrs Milne had largely abrogated it in the first place – that Christopher Robin and his father grew closer, although some fissures, caused my Milne senior’s PTSD, remained.
In Goodbye Christopher Robin, which references the journey that both men but particularly the real life protagonist of the books, had to undertake to make their peace with the epically larger-than-life phenomenon that was Winnie the Pooh, the curtain is peeled back and we see, in a way reminiscent of Christopher Milne’s own memoir confessions, what it was like to be at the centre of the publishing storm.
A. A. Milne, who couldn’t quite reconcile the way the books he wrote for his son came to overshadow all his other writing endeavours, was unaware of the effect it was having on his son at first, going along with the media circus, the interviews and the request for appearances that came with the public’s obsession with the idea that Christopher Robin was real.
Perhaps that meant the adventures and all the escapist wonder that came with them was real too? But as the script by Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Simon Vaughan lays out in exquisitely beautiful, emotionally-resonant but troubling detail, the reality was darker and more difficult than a meander through the woods in search of the Heffalump or to Owl’s home in the trees.
If you’re expecting a whimsical visit back to the Hundred Acre Wood, and a confirmation that yours and the public’s assumptions that real life mirrored the world of Winnie-the-Pooh, you should go looking for another movie entirely.
Goodbye Christopher Robin, which has more than its fair share of sweet, lovely moments – the scenes where Milne senior and junior wander through the woods together while both Nanny and Daphne are away for one two week period are delightful and the making of the father-son bond that Christopher is adamant persisted into adulthood despite everything – is also starkly honest about the effects of PTSD, about remote parenting and the negative consequences of surrendering yourself to the media machine.
We come to understand, in ways that are calmly understated but ruthlessly incisive nonetheless under the expert direction of Simon Curtis, that both men suffered at the hands of Winnie the Pooh to some degree or another.
Milne struggled with the eclipsing of his other much-celebrated work in Punch magazine and on the West End’s many stages, while Christopher Robin, who refused to take any of the bounteous royalties that flowed from Pooh’s global omnipresence, found his childhood ambivalence and occasional enjoyment of the media spotlight morphing into teenage resentment as his literary persona was used as a potent weapon by the many bullies he encountered at boarding school (they were particularly fond of “On Bumping Down the Stairs”).
That both men made their peace with the negative aspects of Winnie the Pooh is a matter of historical record – in the film Christopher Robin goes off to war in 1941 bitterly unhappy about his childhood, but returns much more accepting and circumspect, all too aware of what it meant to a generation of men, especially when death loomed – but Goodbye Christopher Robin touchingly reveals how A. A. Milne and Christopher Milne came to value but not be defined by the denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood.
Delightful to look at, with the English countryside displayed at its most entrancing and peaceful, sunlight filtering through branches and imaginary snowfalls punctuating the summer idyll, Goodbye Christopher Robin ultimately celebrates the father-son bond of the Milnes, finishing with the idea that while Winnie the Pooh and the adventures he had in the Hundred Acre Wood are now everyone’s to enjoy, that “it was ours first”, a precious bond that all the media appearances and emotional dislocation in the world couldn’t take away from them.
My birthday. Other peoples’ birthdays. And pop culture characters birthdays.
If it involves cake, friends and a party, real or imagined I am there with figurative bells on (or depending on the party, actual bells). I also don’t restrict these celebrations to the actual day of the day, happy to let birthdays ooze, like cake icing in the summer rain (yes, I will still eat it; it’s pretty sugar dammit!), over days, weeks, and months if the whim should take me.
So of course since it’s my birthday, and I am by law allowed to celebrate in any way I see fit, I am re-celebrating Bert’s birthday from 26 July this year when he was surprised by Ernie with the most unusual of celebrations.
Of course, it’s involves an element of surprise, which Bert handles super duper well, a singing tap-dancing elephant (what you mean you didn’t have one last birthday?) and a penguin drum-and-bugle corps … and well you’ll just have to watch …
Suffice to say Ernie may have misjudged what Bert wants but you can’t blame a guy for trying right?