Richard Linklater’s most recent exploration into family dynamics, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, drowns in loose ends and oversimplification. Maria Semple’s 2012 novel of the same name was too rich for even some of the biggest names in Hollywood to successfully adapt.
From the first scene, the film deliberately forgoes the compelling mystery that drives its source material. Ironically, the title title card tells us exactly where Bernadette went.
Book to screen adaptations don’t necessarily need to be faithful to be good, but in the Bernadette situation, a stronger reliance on Semple’s mystery driven, mother-daughter focal work would have helped provide a center point for audiences to latch onto. Although the mystery did not have to be at the center to create a compelling story, time dedicated to expanding on the moving mother-daughter relationship would have created an entirely different, more superior film.
Throughout the film, the audience is given a taste of what makes Bernadette and Bee so special to each other. They share an unusual (if not sometimes frightening) level of intelligence and love of sing-screaming Cindy Lauper. Instead of exploring a unique connection made stronger by difficult circumstances (Bernadette’s struggle to carry a child to full term), the script takes time to expand upon useless story-lines.
An extramarital affair between Elgie Fox (Bernadette’s husband) and a new coworker is teased but never developed. Hints of an wildly different film are dropped occasionally. Semple’s work is admittedly relatable for many while simultaneously remaining challenging. It boggles my mind that a well-written, cringe-inducing novel could turn into a glossy and oversimplified story. Unfortunately, the three release date push-backs for re-shoots and edits didn’t yield to an impressive product.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette pushes the dangerous narrative that art and passion can cure anything. Whether the film intends to or not, I do not know, but the end result attempts to convince its audience that a deeply mentally ill person can be cured of their illness through regaining creative power. In a world that seems to be warming up to the idea of openness regarding mental health, a poorly executed result like Bernadette is just about the last thing we need.
Oddly enough, supporting actress Kristen Wiig seems to understand the importance of the chaotic nature of the film’s source material. Her over the top performance feels out of place in a film so obsessed with convention and ease. The cinematography and score take no artistic risks, despite aiding in telling a story about a manic creative. The visually boring and ill-fitting camera work would be better fit in a Hallmark movie. The score is boring and unmoving. It contributes nothing.
Cate Blanchett gives her all to a script headed nowhere with her large performance. Bernadette is simultaneously broken and loud, allowing Blanchett to deliver a significantly less disturbing reprise of her Academy Award winning performance in Blue Jasmine. The time invested in researching Bernadette Fox and her environment by the film’s lead actress shows. Unlike the paper-thin figures surrounding her, the character feels more than one dimensional.
Despite her obvious care for Bernadette, Blanchett’s performance still feels sugar coated. Because of a lazy script, the two time Academy Award winner isn’t given the opportunity to fully embrace Bernadette’s madness. Her portrayal of an extremely anxious person occasionally feels dangerously close to trendy and relatable.
At the premiere of the film, Blanchett remarked that it may be “time for her to stop” her acting career. After such a remarkable career filled with critical and box office successes alike, it would be a true shame to watch one of the most accomplished actresses of our time go out on such a forgettable film.