Directed by: Richard Linklater
Screenplay by: Richard Linklater, Holly Gent and Vincent Palmo, Jr.
Based on “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” by Maria Semple
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig, Emma Nelson, Judy Greer, Zoe Chao, Laurence Fishburne
It occurred to me as I sat down to write this review that I haven’t experienced much of Richard Linklater’s filmography. This is not a slight on my own film watching habits as much as it is a reference point for the review of his latest film, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”.
However, both points of view are clearly working against me.
His latest film, based on the novel of the same name by Maria Semple, features Cate Blanchette in the titular role. Bernadette is a mother and a wife. She is the neighborhood curmudgeon, who shirks away from anything sociable, attracting the ire of other, more involved parents. She was an up and coming architect who understood life a whole lot better than most would give her credit for, save for her daughter Bee (Emma Nelson), who tells the story from her perspective. Bee struggles to be accepted in school by her peers (and their parents) is loved by, and in fact doted upon by Bernadette that it almost seems as if nothing is amiss.
Billy Crudup plays Elgie, a workaholic who is too busy programming the latest technology craze to see what’s going on with his own family. The script, written by Linklater, Holly Gent and Vincent Palmo, Jr intentionally paints Elgie as the outsider in order to frame Bernadette’s lost ambition and uses Bee to give Bernadette a voice when she couldn’t speak up for herself. It’s actually a rather clever bit of storytelling.
The film, which does play as a bit of a dark comedy is so much more layered than the marketing suggests, which is a good thing. However, when I reflect back on those two points of view I mentioned, “Where’d You Go Bernadette” is an exercise in patience. It is both an experience based on how the story is told and it is a slight on the modern audience because the surface level view of this film is almost as icy as Ms. Blanchett’s character comes across.
Laurence Fishburne’s character eases us into some of the deeper depths of Bernadette’s psyche and, I’ve seen enough of Linklater’s work be mindful that more is at work than meets the eye and that’s what drew me towards Bernadette’s story. Sure, I’m a sucker for dark comedies, but the way those elements are folded into the emotional side of the story warranted more of an examination of Bernadette as a character, which I won’t do here; that’s best enjoyed as a part of the experience.
The way Linklater laid out the details of the story, the family dynamic, the neighborhood dysfunction, the way Bee discovers more about her mom and Bernadette’s own insecurities, “Where’d You Go Bernadette” is a very timely look at society today. Suffice it to say, there’s a lot on the surface level, but to truly get mileage out of the story,
3 out of 4