Where’d You Go, Bernadette, 2019.
Directed by Richard Linklater.
Starring Cate Blanchett, Emma Nelson, Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig, Judy Greer, Laurence Fishburne, Troian Bellisario, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, James Urbaniak, Claudia Doumit, Kate Easton, Lana Young, Zoe Chao, Megan Mullally, and Steve Zahn.
A loving mom becomes compelled to reconnect with her creative passions after years of sacrificing herself for her family. Her leap of faith takes her on an epic adventure that jump-starts her life and leads to her triumphant rediscovery.
It would be easy to say that the tone for Where’d You Go, Bernadette is all over the place, but its main issue stems from something much more specific, namely the performance from Cate Blanchett. Directed by the revered Richard Linklater (also serving as a co-writer adapting the likely much better novel from Maria Semple), the talented but unsuccessful architect Bernadette Fox has a cocktail of mental problems ranging from extremely antisocial behavior, anxiety, medication abuse, manic depression, and more manifesting all of these into terrible behavior usually aimed at her neighbors but sometimes her own family, especially her husband Elgie (Billy Crudup). She overdresses complete with scarves and large sunglasses as not to be recognized in public, also with wacky accessories like a fishing vest (she is trying to mentally prepare for a vacation to Antarctica with her family as a reward for her daughter), she’s fidgety during conversation, she doesn’t make much eye contact, she tries to find humor in inappropriate situations, and her attitude is growing more self-destructive by the day.
Now, none of this sounds ripe for a comedic performance, yet that’s how Cate Blanchett is treating this material, whether it be of her own free will and interpretation of the protagonist from the novel or under Richard Linklater’s direction. Her very real mental problems are not necessarily treated as a joke or for a punchline, but rather to give this character an offbeat amusing tone that lands almost no laughs. There’s a moment during a family birthday celebration during a restaurant where, after numerous scenes that awkwardly suggest the audience should supposedly be chuckling at the antics of Bernadette, her husband Elgie starts up a difficult conversation expressing his concern over her mental well-being. It’s the closest this movie ever comes to evoking empathy (alongside an intervention segment that is well-staged and acted). We may not like Bernadette (and anyone that does relate to her might also require therapy), but we do want to see her get healthier.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a misguided disaster that suffers more from none of the writers actually understanding mental health stigmas rather than something broader like a poorly written female lead. Following the intervention, which by the way doesn’t even occur until over halfway into the movie, Bernadette runs away. It’s obvious where she is going and why, making the title of the film more misleading than anything, and it’s never really a question of will or won’t husband and daughter ever find her. This portion of the film also isn’t engaging or exciting, but that’s the least of its problems. Without necessarily giving away the ending, the narrative here suggests that Bernadette does not actually have mental problems, instead, saying that she is an artist that needs to create to find happiness. This movie is such a crock of shit that it’s both insulting to people that really do have mental problems and artists.
However, even that’s not the most offensive aspect of the movie. Bernadette has a teenage daughter played by newcomer Emma Nelson (the Illinois located actress also delivers the best performance in the movie and will hopefully receive more work for giving her best efforts to salvage this mess) that sort of takes the wrong lessons from everything going on. She’s the first one to defend her mom over anything even when it’s the wrong thing to do. It’s natural why she does this, and her unwavering love for her mother and ability to not see the bad (alongside the bad that her mother’s behavior is transferring to her) does add a little more complexity to the story. Bee is by far the only interesting character here, and seeing as the majority of the movie is narrated by her spouting off all kinds of different scientific facts (she’s a supremely intelligent child), I’m willing to bet that the entire novel or most of it comes from her perspective. Perhaps if the film adaptation followed suit, it too would function properly. As is, the focus is on Bernadette with Cate Blanchett turning in a wildly miscalculated performance that sinks the movie, yet is somehow also only a fraction of the issues here.
Richard Linklater has also populated Where’d You Go, Bernadette with a number of supporting characters filled in by some of his regular actors, except their scenes largely exist as extended exposition dumps explaining the wins and losses of Bernadette’s architecture career and what may have triggered her downward spiral. Among that, there’s also a line about Bernadette having four miscarriages that are never once brought up again; it’s the kind of garbage the script pulls trying to get viewers to care about, relate, or simply find empathy for Bernadette’s struggles as there’s no other way to make her presence tolerable. The movie itself is not tolerable.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com