‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ Is a Thoughtful Character Study

Photo by Annapurna Pictures - © ANNAPURNA PICTURES, LLC. All Rights Reserved
Photo by Annapurna Pictures – © ANNAPURNA PICTURES, LLC. All Rights Reserved

The new Richard Linklater film Where’d You Go, Bernadette is being buried by critics, audiences and Annapurna Pictures’ inability to market and sell a movie, further proven by the fact that no one saw the exceptional Booksmart earlier this year. Some reviews were scathing, others were meh, none were especially enthusiastic. But I very much enjoyed Where’d You Go, Bernadette. I think it’s definitely worth a viewer’s time, and hope it will find a longer life and a larger audience on the ancillary market.

Twenty years ago, Bernadette (Cate Blanchett) was an up and coming architect who, at a very young age had several outstanding projects to her name that received international attention. But due to professional setbacks that plagued her creativity, she has shifted her focus to her husband and daughter (Billy Crudup and Emma Nelson). Over time, she’s developed agoraphobia and bipolar tendencies, and the film finds her at a bit of a crossroads when she finds herself panicking at the thought of a family vacation.

This could also be called How Bernadette Got Her Groove Back, and your enjoyment of this film will be entirely dependent on how you relate to this main character. I found Bernadette, the character, to be extremely sympathetic and relatable. This film observes the creative process and what it means to be a creative individual and what happens when that person has stopped doing what they love. It’s a narrative focus that could seem self-indulgent from a filmmaker who has spent the majority of his career basking in critical adoration and occasionally even Academy recognition, but instead, it rings remarkably accurate. I would say this film is definitely one of the better on-screen representations of clinical anxiety that I’ve seen – definitely one of the best from an American movie.

Cate Blanchett, of course, is phenomenal, and this is a character study worthy of her. Her work is so good that you only wish this relatively short film would give her more time to breathe in the way she does best. There are a few scenes where she delivers monologues to a computer assistant service that explain how she’s feeling about what’s going on around her. In the hands of a lesser actor, this could feel very annoying, and Bernadette could easily seem kooky and thoughtless and worse, irredeemable. Blanchett and Linklater clearly love this character and aim to give her narrative everything it needs. Blanchett also continues her trend of refusing to take on a role unless the costumes are spectacular. I’m surprised there’s no line of sunglasses inspired by this film in American shopping malls.

The supporting cast is also quite reliable. Emma Nelson as Bee, Bernadette’s supportive and kind daughter is excellent, and Billy Crudup is also doing good work as the Elgin, the husband I wish we knew more about. The relationship between Bernadette and Elgin isn’t developed as thoroughly as it could be. Kristen Wiig is quite good as Bernadette’s mortal enemy, annoying next-door neighbor Audrey, who she eventually finds a great deal in common with. A ton of great character actors (Laurence Fishburne, Megan Mullally, Judy Greer, James Urbaniak, etc.) pop up as well, and it’s clear that either Linklater has a lot of talented friends or everyone just is dying for the chance to work with Cate Blanchett.

As much as I’m praising it, this isn’t a perfect movie. There are a few plot developments that feel rushed and half-realized as the film stumbles toward its third act, but we move past those and on to something more satisfying. Based on a popular novel by Maria Semple, the film occasionally does feel like it’s rushing through storytelling beats, but not frustratingly so. It would probably be a better film if we added a half-hour, but nothing about this feels like it was hacked up into something unrecognizable in the editing process. I haven’t read the novel, but from what I’ve heard about it, this would be a tremendously tricky book to adapt to screen. A majority of the criticism targeting this film is from fans of the book. I’m happy when I can go into a movie and just enjoy it – that happens less and less often these days, so I’m glad to live in blissful ignorance for now.

In conclusion, Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a sharply observed character study that suffers from a few narrative stumbles, but has always had a clear end goal in mind. Cate Blanchett delivers a reliable powerhouse performance, and the supporting cast brings a lot to the table. If you aren’t on board with Bernadette and her journey, I could see how this film may not be as enjoyable as Bernadette isn’t what you would call traditionally likable. But I loved her. I understood her and rooted for her every step of the way. Where’d You Go, Bernadette has already left most American cinemas, as Annapurna Pictures had no idea how to market it, but would be a perfect choice for a streaming rental in a few months.

 

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