Review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette
There seems to be two different Richard Linklaters. There’s the Linklater who has made a few of the most beloved films of the past three decades including the Before Trilogy, Boyhood, and Dazed and Confused. These are the titles people think of when they hear the name Linklater. Then there’s the Linklater who makes movies like School of Rock and Bad News Bears. The movies are “okay” but nothing special. They just don’t feel like Linklater movies. These movies could have been directed by anyone. Why is there a difference? The latter films are just jobs whereas the former films are personal. For the most part, Where’d You Go, Bernadette falls into the latter category.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette is based on the 2012 Maria Semple book of the same name. Cate Blanchett stars as Bernadette Fox. She’s a wife, mother, architect, and more than a little bit anti-social. Her husband, Elgie (Billy Crudup), is a tech wiz who works for Microsoft and gives TED talks. Their daughter “Bee” (Emma Nelson) is just about to leave for boarding school. Bernadette was happy to move from Los Angeles to Seattle 20 years prior when one of the two houses she designed/built was bought by someone who bulldozed it and put up a parking lot. Her career has been on hiatus ever since. What happens to a person who needs to create but can’t because they won’t allow themselves? In Bernadette’s case, it turns her into a person who can be unpleasant to be around. The family are about to go on a trip to Antarctica. In the weeks before departing, Bernadette begins to spiral out of control and she eventually disappears.
Bernadette is the work of journeyman Linklater and it is one of his lesser films. It’s messy, uneven, and altogether weak. The editing seemed odd, too. At a screening of the film at Austin Film Society (which was founded by Linklater in 1985 and where he is the artistic director), Linklater was on hand to both introduce the movie and participate in a Q&A afterwards. He talked about how they started out with a nearly 3 hour(?!) cut of the film. They shot so much footage, the task of what to cut was, perhaps, overwhelming which may be why the film feels like a bit of a hodgepodge. He didn’t go into specifics, but Linklater mentioned there were issues while they made the film. He said they spent longer editing this film than they had on any of his other projects. A quick search of the film online reveals that it shot back in 2017 and was originally scheduled for release in May of 2018. It was then pushed back three more times before finally being released on August 16. This information is not a surprise given what’s on the screen.
Despite its issues, Bernadette does have some positives going for it. While Blanchett might not have been the best person for this role, she was still engaging. Bernadette isn’t the most likeable person and Blanchett managed to find a way to make the audience empathize with the character’s plight. Crudup was fine as Bernadette’s husband. The real find here is Emma Nelson as “Bee”. Linklater said this was her first film but you’d never know it based on this performance, as she holds her own alongside her veteran co-stars. The production design by Bruce Curtis is terrific as are Kari Perkins’ costumes–Bernadette’s wardrobe is amazing. There were a few great shots here and there thanks to Shane F. Kelly. These were mainly footage taken in Antarctica (Greenland was a stand-in for most of the Antarctica scenes). There were several funny moments in the movie and even a couple of emotional scenes. The movie tries to find a balance between lighthearted moments amid Bernadette’s downward spiral, but it doesn’t always succeed.
On paper, Where’d You Go, Bernadette seems like it would be a homerun just by looking at the roster of everyone involved. What it is, instead, is a meandering, uneven journey around the bases with a few highlights along the way. It is definitely worth watching, especially if you’re a Linklater completist, but maybe not enough to merit leaving your house.