Where’d You Go, Bernadette
2019, PG-13, 104 min. Directed by Richard Linklater. Starring Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig, Emma Nelson, Judy Greer, Laurence Fishburne, Zoë Chao, James Urbaniak, Troian Bellisario, Steve Zahn, Megan Mullally.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 16, 2019
She climbed out through the bathroom window. What Bernadette doesn’t realize when she flees the monumental mess she has created is that she has also discovered the passageway to her resurrection. Even though she learns that she can’t run away from herself, Bernadette Fox finds that a long-dormant former self wants to be let back into the game.
Richard Linklater’s latest film is based on Maria Semple’s bestselling novel that has an epistolary structure, in which letters and emails are the means by which Bernadette’s daughter and husband try to find her. That narrative device is completely absent in the film adaptation by Holly Gent and Vincent Palmo Jr. (Me and Orson Welles). The entire first half of the film is devoted to showing us Bernadette in the flesh and the pile-up of events that precede her momentous departure.
The magnificent Cate Blanchett embodies Bernadette, a MacArthur grant recipient and former superstar in the field of architecture who has retreated into anonymous domesticity in Seattle with her Microsoft superstar husband, Elgin (Crudup), and savvy daughter, Bee (Nelson), with whom she shares an especially close bond. The family lives in a big, old house that used to be a reform school. The ceilings leak, and the blackberry brambles are encroaching on the property’s foundations – sure exterior symbols of the state of interior affairs. Bernadette is not so much an agoraphobe as a misanthrope. She does leave the house (mostly to drive Bee to school and such), but when in public, her sardonic tone manages to get her into scrapes with other people, particularly her next-door neighbor Audrey (Wiig). A digital assistant in India fulfills all Bernadette’s shopping and other requests, but eventually becomes problematic. Bee will soon be leaving for boarding school, which also eats at Bernadette. Events throughout the first half converge toward a comical climax that draws to a close when Bernadette self-ejects out the window.
After spending much of his career making films that focus on the concerns of young people, it’s interesting to see Linklater’s last couple of films looking at issues related to middle age. Vietnam vets reuniting for a new domestic mission is the focus of Last Flag Flying. Although Boyhood ostensibly follows 12 years of a Texas kid’s maturation, it was Patricia Arquette, who plays the boy’s mother, who was recognized with a Best Actress Oscar for her work. Bernadette has lost her creative spark; the great promise of her youth is all but lost by her middle years. In his own middle years as a filmmaker, Bernadette’s situation perhaps strikes a chord with Linklater. Undeniably, this is his first film featuring a solo female lead.
One of Linklater’s greatest filmmaking instincts involves his casting decisions. Newcomer Emma Nelson is a real find as Bernadette’s daughter. Although Blanchett’s performance seems a bit mannered and slightly reminiscent of her Oscar-winning performance in Blue Jasmine, these are hardly flaws when the outcome is so riveting. Wiig beautifully toes a difficult line between drama and comedy. It’s a line similar to the one etched by this film: an emotional crisis mixed with laughs.
For an interview with Richard Linklater about how making a movie is a lot like being an architect, read "Brick by Brick, Frame by Frame," Aug. 16; plus, don't miss all the glamour of our Austin premiere red carpet photo gallery.
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Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Richard Linklater, Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig, Emma Nelson, Judy Greer, Laurence Fishburne, Zoë Chao, James Urbaniak, Troian Bellisario, Steve Zahn, Megan Mullally