Where'd You Go Bernadette
Jacob Richardson | 16/07/2020
A middling adaptation that never truly reaches the fantastical nature of its source material.
Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) is in a rut. Having fled her LA-based architecture career 20 years ago after a tragedy, she lives in Seattle with her tech-genius husband Elgie (Billy Crudup) and daughter Bee (Emily Nelson). Without a project to tackle (not even her colossal, decrepit house gets her attention), she fights incessantly with her neighbour (Kristen Wiig) and dictates orders down the phone to her India-based personal assistant. Her neuroses get even worse when Bee convinces the family to take a trip to Antarctica, and in a series of increasingly dramatic events, Bernadette finds herself in Antarctica by herself, as her husband and wife chase her, as she tries to rediscover what makes her her.
You’d be fundamentally forgiven for being shocked when the Directed By title at the end of this film flashes up Richard Linklater’s name. The Linklater who was so laser focussed in the Before trilogy, and even the Linklater who delivered such a clear vision of rollicking fun in School of Rock, is in sparse supply here. Because Where’d You Go Bernadette feels both more whimsical than his previous work, and a lot less focussed.
The film, which one would imagine should have a tone reminiscent of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, spends a lot of time focused on the minutiae of life in Seattle for Bernadette, fixating on her problems with people, pick-ups, drug stores and weeds in her house. Indeed, a lot of the time is spent watching Bernadette dictate long-winded emails to her Google speech to text function.
That being said, this movie isn’t a write-off. There’s actually a lot to love here. Bernadette, as played by Blanchett, is neurotic but fun - and we find ourselves rooting for her to bust out of her rut and tackle a new project. Her scatter-brained passion never comes off as annoying, instead being an endearing trait. That’s an achievement a lesser actress might have failed to pull off. Crudup is perfectly cast, his long history of playing cheating husband characters lending an air of suspicion to his actions that, despite never paying off, creates a complexity to their situation that again wouldn’t have been possible with a lesser actor.
The film picks up when it hits the Antarctic, and as things start to fall into place, rather than apart. It still warms your heart, but one wishes this was maybe a little more whimsical, and a little more fantastic, than it wound up being.
Unlikely to stay with you for long, Where’d You Go Bernadette could have done with more whimsy - but still manages to warm your heart by the end.