Where’d You Go, Bernadette

August 16, 2019

in Movies

Film (2019)
Directed by Richard Linklater
Screenplay by Richard Linklater, Holly Gent, Vince Palmo
Based on the novel (2012) by Maria Semple

With Cate Blanchett (Bernadette Fox), Emma Nelson (Bee Branch), Kristen Wiig (Audrey), Judy Greer (Dr. Kurtz), Billy Crudup (Elgie), Laurence Fishburne (Paul Jellinek), Zoe Chao (Soo-Lin), Troian Bellisario (Becky)

Poster

A talented offbeat woman faces accusations that may undermine her roles as mother, wife and creative artist.

Bernadette (Cate Blanchett) seems pretty crazy, lovably crazy, but still crazy. She has trouble with all the other parents of kids at her daughter’s school, and particularly so with her neighbor, Audrey (Kristen Wiig). Bernadette and her daughter, Bee (Emma Nelson), are particularly close, and Bee seems not to mind her mother’s eccentricities at all. Meanwhile, Elgie (Billy Crudup), Bernadette’s Microsoft-star husband, seems the most worried as the various charges against Bernadette seem to mount up. A family adventure to Antarctica does not go exactly as planned, but, in the long run provides opportunities that enable all the characters to show their stuff.

Richard Linklater is a real American film auteur and has done a bunch of films that are somewhat odd, daring and interesting. His Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), and Before Midnight (2013) are wonderful talk-fests that take the exploration of relationship quite a bit further than films generally do. And Boyhood (2014), his fifteen year exploration of the development of a child in a complicated family, is a masterpiece of an eccentric and fascinating sort.

This is a much more standard film – based on the novel of the same name – and which seems far more Hollywood-esque than many of Linklater’s other ventures. The script is not very strong, and, in general, the film suffers because of it. Riding on the edge of mawkishness and predictability, it requires some significant gestures to keep it from plunging into oblivion.

Those gestures are provided ably and constantly by Cate Blanchett, who creates a character as endearing and captivating as she is unpredictable and unnerving. Blanchett’s face is a world unto itself, framing her bestial smile between two mountain sized cheekbones and using the landscape between to its full effect. It’s intoxicating to watch her do her thing.

Emma Nelson, who plays the daughter, Bee, is also tremendously good. She has a frankness and straightforwardness that contrasts with the wildness of Blanchett’s character, but she pulls it off marvelously well. The two of them manage to create a sense of connection and bondedness that is persuasive and poignant.

Billy Crudup, a fine stage and film actor, as Elgie, Bernadette’s husband, has a harder role as the sometimes heavy, and, for whatever reason, does not really come across convincingly. It’s hard to tell why his acting seems wooden here but it consistently seems a beat or two behind. Though it’s not impossible to feel something for his character, the combination of the fairly blunt script and the performance make it not so easy to do so. It seems he’s been given the short shrift of script and direction.

Kristen Wiig as Bernadette’s neighbor nemesis Audrey, is quite funnily unnerving, and, for the time she’s given to develop her character, she does a good job.

Contextually and narratively the film is weak. Something in the way the script has been developed does not really bring out the significance of the drama it intends. Whatever the film does do to make its characters and situations vivid is conjured up by the contributions of the two great actresses playing mother and daughter.

Overall: Expect something not too swift and you can go and simply enjoy the two compelling performances by Cate Blanchett and Emma Nelson.

– BADMan

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