By Megan Bianco
Annapurna Pictures’ new dramedy Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is about a suburban housewife who has a nervous breakdown and then intentionally disappears to rediscover who she is as a person. If this sounds familiar to you, it might be because it’s based on the best-selling 2012 novel of the same name by Maria Semple.
Or it could be because this movie was actually filmed over two years ago, with Annapurna and United Artists continually pushing back the release date until ultimately dumping it into the dead zone that is late August. Now that audiences are finally getting a chance to see the mysteriously postponed feature, with the studios obviously not sure what to do with it, I can say that it’s not one of the worst films I’ve seen this year. But it is one of the more frustrating.
Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) was at one point in the late 1990s the most successful female architect in the United States. But two decades later, her life consists of doing random, creative things around her barely maintainable, giant home while neglecting her depression meds and therapy. She hates the city she lives in (Seattle), and doesn’t get along with the other local moms in the neighborhood. Bernadette is one cat away from turning into a modern day Edith Bouvier-Beale, while her husband Elgin (Billy Crudup) runs a start-up company for Microsoft and her 14-year-old daughter Bee (Emma Nelson) prepares to leave for a boarding school. That is until Bernadette finally snaps after a heated argument with local PTA head Audrey (Kristin Wiig).
With Laurence Fishburne, Troian Bellisario and Judy Greer as co-stars, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? has a lot going on that might have been too much for director Richard Linklater. His style and cinematic talent work best with easy-going, modest, indie character studies like Dazed and Confused (1993), Before Sunrise (1995), Waking Life (2001), Bernie (2011) and even the epically shot Boyhood (2012). Even in more mainstream films of his like School of Rock (2003) and Everybody Wants Some! (2016) there’s still a genuine feel-good quality.
But Bernadette didn’t make me feel good. With characters that have extreme neuroses like Blanchett’s character, there can be a fine line between coming across as relatable or very insufferable. You really need a storyteller who knows how this type of personality and mental history operate, and I didn’t get that impression with anyone involved with the film or its script. Blanchett’s performance is alright, but she has already played a better version of this role in Blue Jasmine (2013).
Surprisingly Bernadette isn’t even the most unlikable character in the movie. That would be Nelson’s Bee, who is unfortunately the most recent addition to the “obnoxious, precocious, know-it-all kid” type. This isn’t really a dig at Nelson, who is just a teenager actress doing her job, but more to the authors of her character’s development. She is that annoying blend of always being right, while complaining, and no one in the film calls her out on it.
For me, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? felt like watching a less disastrous repeat of Cameron Crowe’s Aloha (2015), but hopefully Linklater’s future career trajectory won’t spiral down as hard as Crowe, John Hughes, Richard Curtis and other Capra-esque, happy-go-lucky filmmakers’ have.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.
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