Where'd You Go, Bernadette (2019)

Cate Blanchett and Emma Nelson in a scene from Richard Linklater's 'Where'd You Go, Bernadette'



Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig, Emma Nelson, James Urbaniak, Judy Greer, Troian Bellisario, Zoe Chao, Laurence Fishburne

Directed by Richard Linklater

Based on the bestselling 2012 novel by Maria Semple, the quirky film helmed by “Boyhood” director Richard Linklater flourishes under Cate Blanchett’s performance. The tale of a mother stuck in Seattle on the verge of a nervous breakdown speaks to anyone who’s ever experienced a case of burnout. Sometimes you just need a little push to get inspired again. The supporting cast features the always reliable Billy Crudup in the husband role, newcomer Emma Nelson who beat out 600 hopefuls to play Blanchett’s daughter, and a very good Kristen Wiig as the nosy neighbor next door.

Blanchett plays Bernadette Fox, an award-winning architect known for designing the 20-mile house, a futuristic eco-friendly dwelling constructed of materials sourced within a 20-mile radius. That was two decades ago, now the former genius is living an uninspired life in Seattle with husband Elgin (Billy Crudup), a tech whiz at Microsoft, and daughter Bee (Emma Nelson) who knows nothing about her mom’s famous designer past. Nelson’s dynamic performance becomes the film’s anchor as in Semple’s novel where Bee serves as narrator. Blanchett and Nelson have a unique chemistry that feeds off each other’s performance. The novel doesn’t make for an easy transition to film, so Linklater keeps the basic elements intact while cutting out many of the adverse conditions for a smooth conversion.

Kristen Wiig in one of my favorite performances since “The Skeleton Twins” plays Bernadette’s jittery neighbor Audrey who falsely accuses Bernadette of running over her foot with a car. She, like Bernadette and every character in the film, is living a false life as if we’re watching this story unfold through an Instagram filter. By the film’s end, each character’s true self is revealed as the story becomes one of discovery and inspiration.

Before Bee scoots off to boarding school at Choate, she suggests that the family take a vacation together to Antarctica. But before the three depart for the icy wonderland Elgin becomes worried when he’s visited by the FBI about a possible Russian identity scam caused by Bernadette’s use of a virtual assistant out of India named Manjula and so he stages an intervention by calling in a therapist played by Judy Greer. During the intervention, Bernadette escapes through a bathroom window and heads off to Antarctica alone with Bee and Elgin in hot pursuit.

Motherhood is overwhelming and Linklater’s “Bernadette” emphasizes this point to the extent that the film discards some of the turbulent aspects of Semple’s novel. Blanchett displays shades of her Oscar-winning “Blue Jasmine” performance as her character rediscovers that former genius tucked away in the dark recesses of her psyche.

While “Bernadette” is not up to par with Linklater’s “Boyhood” or the director’s career spanning “Before Trilogy” it’s a great opportunity to watch a compelling Cate Blanchett roll with the punches while the final act offers up stunning shots of Greenland best enjoyed on the big screen.

(3 ½ stars)

Now showing at Cinemark 12 and theaters nationwide

Joe Friar is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society.  He co-founded the Victoria Film Society and reviews films for Hit Radio 104.7 and the Victoria Advocate.

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Joe Friar is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. He co-founded the Victoria Film Society and reviews films for Hit Radio 104.7 and the Victoria Advocate."

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