FILM REVIEW – WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE. With Cate Blanchett, Judy Greer, Kristen Wiig, Billy Crudup, Laurence Fishburne. Written by Richard Linklater & Holly Gent & Vincent Palmo. Directed by Richard Linklater. Rated PG-13 for some strong language and drug material. 107 minutes.
WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is a “quirky” comedy about a woman who puts part of her life on hold until she can’t take it anymore, and the fact that the contrived plot works is due, in no small part, to star Cate Blanchett – she holds our interest as the story turns increasingly odd.
When we first meet Bernadette Fox (Blanchett), she is a wife and mother living in a massive
“fixer upper” that is very much a work-in-progress. In fact, her chaotic surroundings reflect her disconnection from her life. Other than her husband (Billy Crudup) and daughter (Emma Nelson), she is drifting through life, much to the consternation of her neighbors and other parents. We learn she was once a highly-regarded architect who walked away from her career.
Part of the film is discovering her backstory, helped by a cameo by Laurence Fishburne as her mentor. It reaches a point where something snaps, and she disappears. The audience knows where she’s heading even as the details are slowly revealed. It turns out that while her husband and daughter are in pursuit trying to figure it out, so is Bernadette. After years of holding herself in check, she’s now madly improvising, hoping that her instincts will serve her well.
While the film certainly works as a feminist story, with Bernadette deciding that it’s time to define herself rather than let others do so, there’s something else going on here, which may be what attracted director/co-writer Richard Linklater to the novel by Maria Semple. Linklater (“Dazed and Confused,” “Before Sunrise,” “Boyhood”) is a filmmaker who likes examining idiosyncratic characters even in his more mainstream films like “School of Rock” and “Bernie.” His characters are often people frustrated in reaching their goals and who have to reinvent themselves to find fulfillment.
For Bernadette, denying her creativity and skill set simply means that that energy will be pent up, ultimately having to emerge in some other form. Blanchett could have played Bernadette as someone who was simply self-absorbed with her own issues, but even as she’s short with others (like a snobbish neighbor played by Kristin Wiig), she does not neglect the people important to her. That is until the pressure becomes unbearable and she runs off.
Blanchett is one of the finest actresses working in film today, easily moving between comedy and drama, and who threads the needle here in handling both. As with other Linklater films, it’s a slightly askew look at life that may not be for every taste, but “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” knows where it’s going and it’s worth going along for the ride.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.