An otherwise all-star cast feels somewhat suffocated under Richard Linklater’s film interpretation of a New York Times Best Seller.
Based on Maria Semple’s novel of the same name, Where’d You Go Bernadette follows a former star architect Bernadette (Cate Blanchett) who feels past her prime and restless, and her career-entrenched husband Elgie (Billy Crudup) as he battles the challenge of having a fiercely independent wife. They have one child, Bee, played by Emma Nelson.
For a Linklater film, Where’d You Go Bernadette feels pointedly plot-driven. We don’t get to luxuriate in the lush character studies that Linklater often gives us, intentionally or not. The most developed character is, by far, Bernadette, who is complex, spontaneous, passionate and wry. She is impulsive, but rarely has regrets. And while Blanchett gives a strong performance, thoughtful moments are cut short by demand of the plot.
The beginning of the movie feels really rough- as a trip to Antartica is being planned, it feels as if the family had never been in the same room together. And even by the end, there is a strange distance between the lot of them, even though they are suppose to be closer than ever. Bernadette and Elgie never click and they never seem to enjoy each other’s company. At least, we rarely get a glimpse into what a life of happiness is for them.
Elgie, deeply involved in his very-2019 projects at Microsoft, is distant by design, but he doesn’t seem to enjoy the time he is around with family. This leaves Bernadette and Bee to their own devices, building a strong relationship of trust. Bernadette is at her most playful with Bee.
Supporting cast include Kirsten Wiig (Saturday Night Live, Bridesmaids) as the meddling neighbor and polar opposite of Bernadette in terms of personality, as well as Judy Greer (Arrested Development). They provide a colorful extra world, but they feel just that- extra. In fact, they cheapen the story so much that by the end, the sappiness of it all feels downright Hallmark Channel. The farfetched circumstance and the characters we meet along the way don’t feel compatible.
Fortunately, the saving grace of this is the world that does get built around Bernadette the celebrity architect. It is parody, but also real, and witnessing both Bernadette and Bee interact with Bernadette’s fame makes for some of the most intense moments of the film. Linklater creates real estate agents, developers, art critics, and more, building Bernadette into the architect you wish you knew. It is truly fun and exciting, and the most captivating portion of the film. It is Bernadette, the decadent personality, pulled through the wringer of American perception of “genius”.
Where’d You Go Bernadette is a watertight, plot driven story with writing strongly rooted in 2019 humor, which will delight audiences. But you’re left wanting to know more at every corner. To Linklater’s credit, that’s good character development, but opportunities are sometimes missed.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette is in theaters August 16th, 2019.