Current Issue #488

Film Review:
Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Workaholic director Richard Linklater’s latest is an eccentric, vaguely troubled family drama that benefits from a tricky star turn by Cate Blanchett.

Drawn from Maria Semple’s novel (Linklater had a hand in adapting the screenplay), this is a far more feminine-in-tone outing after the blokiness of Linklater’s recent Everybody Wants Some!! and Last Flag Flying, and was reportedly chosen by him due to the emphasis on the central mother-child relationship (remember that offscreen he has three daughters and two older sisters). However, that seems a little strange given that the Mom here, Blanchett’s unreliable Bernadette Fox, spends so much time trying to get the Hell away from everyone.

Reclusive architect Bernadette lives in a sprawling, falling-apart former schoolhouse in Seattle with her concerned husband Elgin (Billy Crudup, nice in a non-sleazy role) and their questioning daughter Balakrishna a.k.a. Bee (Emma Nelson). The always-difficult Bernie has become increasingly agoraphobic and is rude to the neighbours, especially the nightmarish nearby Audrey Griffin (Kristen Wiig), but she’s always close to Bee. Or is she?

When Bee does well at school the kid insists the family take a wannabe-healing group trip to Antarctica, of all places, and then Bernadette becomes weirder and more unpredictable. And while the novel leaves the reader unsure about where exactly Bernadette eventually escapes to, the film arranges it all differently, with her secret solo trek to Antarctica never a mystery and everything out in the open, due to the presence of Blanchett. As Linklater famously stated, “You don’t cast Cate Blanchett to [only] have her be in a small portion of the movie.”

This one’s odd plot takes other curious turns too: there’s a thread where Elgin sides with a Dr. Kurtz (Judy Greer, and shades of Apocalypse Now) in suggesting Bernadette be institutionalised; she becomes embroiled in an issue of national security; and there’s the whole improbable business with Wiig’s Audrey, which plays like out-of-place crazy comedy.

And surely there’s something altogether awry about the whole tale? The message seems to be all about letting the ones you love be free to make their own mistakes, but Bernadette’s behaviour is, dare it be said, dangerous and irresponsible, and causes her family – and, perhaps, her country – all sorts of problems.

Reviewer Rating

Where’d You Go, Bernadette (M) is in cinemas now

DM Bradley

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