The new film Where’d You Go, Bernadette? was co-written and directed by Richard Linklater (Boyhood, Before Sunset) and stars Oscar winning actress Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine). Based on the novel of the same name by Maria Semple, the movie follows Bernadette Fox, an accomplished architect now living a domestic life in Seattle with her family. The film’s title is not only a reference to Bernadette’s abrupt departure which occurs in the second half of the movie; it also seems apropos to, on a much deeper existential level, the way in which the character of Bernadette has lost sight of her goals and creative identity as an artist.
For those film-goers who haven’t read the novel (like yours truly) the highlights of Bernadette’s career are neatly presented within the main narrative by way of a YouTube video. Fox, an esteemed architect is shown to have been a major talent with a rising profile who, after receiving a fair amount of success, has suffered through a number of personal and professional obstacles in recent years. When viewers are introduced to her, Bernadette has settled into a “project in progress” (aka former religious school turned family home) located in rainy Seattle along her with husband Elgie (Billy Crudup), a Microsoft programmer, daughter Bee (Emma Nelson), and dog named Ice Cream. This domestic set up is complicated by the intrusion of noisy neighbour Audrey (Kristen Wiig), who is also a parent of a student at Bee’s school.
The centerpiece of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is Bernadette herself and her misanthropic and comically quirky personality. Bernadette’s feelings of disdain for virtually everyone she meets is evident very early on in the narrative when even she admits that she’s not adept at social situations. This is a fact that becomes crystal clear when she encounters a star struck fan while strolling through a local library: instead of being flattered by the adoration, Bernadette instead seems bothered and put off by the unwanted attention.
Although this film was much anticipated by those who read the book on which it was based, somewhere in its transition from page to screen the material has lost some of its appeal. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? simply fails to create much onscreen excitement. Movie fans already know that Cate Blanchett is an acting chameleon and once again in this film she literally disappears into her character.
The real stand out of the movie, however, is newcomer Emma Nelson who makes her big screen debut. The youngster is portrayed as a likeable, adventurous, and intelligent individual who emanates enthusiasm and is wise beyond her years. Emma Nelson is definitely an actress to watch in the future.
The strength of Where’d You Go Bernadette? lies in its representation of the mother/daughter relationship at the centre of the movie. Bernadette reveals to a former friend (played by Laurence Fishburne) how after suffering several miscarriages, she gave birth to Bee, whom she considers to be her miracle baby. Since then the successful architect has put her career on hold in order to fulfill the roles of full time mother and wife, thus putting her family’s needs above her own. Throughout the film the strength of Bernadette’s love for her husband and daughter is never in doubt (even when her sanity is). The emotions at the core of the relationship between mother and daughter are perhaps best portrayed during a scene in which Bernadette and her daughter break out into a duet of Cyndi Lauper’s classic song “Time After Time” while driving in the rain.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is a likeable enough film with some good performances from Blanchett and Nelson. The movie also features some gorgeous shots of Antarctica (actually Greenland) but its main themes revolve around the importance of maintaining strong family ties as well as remaining true to yourself, finding a renewed sense of discovery, and never losing touch with your creativity.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is now playing in theatres.