Where’d You Go, Bernadette | Richard Linklater | August 16, 2019
Where’d You Go, Bernadette is the latest from Richard Linklater, who adapted Maria Semple’s novel of the same name with his longtime co-writing partners Holly Gent and Vincent Palmo Jr.
However, you never get a sense of the director’s distinct style or voice here, in this bizarre tale about the titular Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett), a once-revered architect who has lost her creative spark years ago and never got it back. Then there’s her inability to be social with people that has caused her life to start to tailspin in recent years, not only affecting her life, both those around her, including her Microsoft exec husband Elgie (After The Wedding‘s Billy Crudup) and her daughter Bee (Emma Nelson).
Her behavior has become unusual and erratic, which is demonstrated with the chaotic environment that is their Seattle home, where she hides out living out her creative funk that seems to be the root of all her current issues. She has insomnia and can’t get along with her neighbor and overly involved school mom Audrey (Kristen Wiig) and all of her zany behavior has slowly but surely started to genuinely worry Elgie to the point he has to consult Dr. Kurtz (Judy Greer), a psychologist who is equally perturbed about Bernadette’s mental health to the point that an intervention is put into motion.
This is a problem as she and Elgie had promised Bee that they would take her on a trip to Antartica for the holidays and her current state puts a big wrench in their plans. So when put in a corner, Bernadette disappears, leaving her family to find her as she tries to re-discover herself as well. While the first half has its fair share of issues, it’s a much stronger affair than the second half which feels eerily similar to elements of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
The themes pulled from Semple’s novel are there but never translate in the same way on the big screen, feeling too cartoony and jarring in tone, without a stylistic flair to give it either dramatic heft or play towards some of the unhinged comedic elements. Narration helps move the plot along but feels like a cold way to spell out some of the exposition, but it feels like these characters are in a distant world that looks like ours but feels so very foreign and alien in the behavior of these characters, none of whom you’re able to latch onto in a way that feels more than surface level.
It’s hard to not love a Cate Blanchett performance, as she’s one of the best actors of our time. Her Bernadette greatly reminds me of her Jasmine in 2013’s Blue Jasmine. This isn’t one of her strongest performances, but she is as good of an actor as any to keep the scattershot affair afloat, alongside the equally consistent Billy Crudup and the wholesome performance from newcomer Emma Nelson. With the gravitation pull that comes with it being a Linklater picture, there are a ton of familiar faces showing up to varying degrees of use, including Judy Greer, Laurence Fishburne, Megan Mullally, Steve Zahn, James Urbaniak, and Zoe Chao.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette seems to have some well-meaning themes about finding yourself later in life, balancing your fears with your aspirations, and everything else in-between. But Linklater delivers it all in a perplexing manner that feels like an aimless, scattershot matter that never seems to know what it is and you have to sort to wonder if it was better left imagined off the written pages of the novel. We aren’t left with much to hold onto here, except the performance from Blanchett, but it’s not enough to make this the sort of strong work that we’re accustomed to from both her and Linklater.