Rated PG-13 for some strong language and drug material
2 hours 10 minutes
Based on the best-selling novel by Maria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette stars Cate Blanchett in the title role as an agoraphobic misanthrope with a mysterious past.
Residing in Seattle with her tech mogul husband Elgin (Billy Crudup) and her bright daughter Bee (Emma Nelson), she does just about everything she can to avoid other people, including her snippy neighbor Audrey (Kristen Wiig).
After Elgin attempts to stage an intervention along with their psychiatrist Dr. Kurtz (Judy Greer), Bernadette finds a way out of the situation and promptly disappears without a trace. It’s up to Elgin and Bee to follow what sparse clues they have and bring their Bernadette back safely.
Coming off of three solid outings in Boyhood, Everybody Wants Some!!, and Last Flag Flying, director Richard Linklater seems as lost as his prickly protagonist with this material.
As someone who hasn’t read the book, I struggle to find what Linklater found so enticing in the original text that he felt the need to adapt it into this obvious and pandering melodrama. He seems to be channeling his inner Cameron Crowe, leaning on an obnoxiously plucky music score by Graham Reynolds and Sam Lipman to hone in on maudlin characters revelations that one could see coming a mile away.
The verbose screenplay, penned by Linklater along with Holly Gent and Vincent Palmo Jr., focuses too much on the wordy monologues that Bernadette barks at her personal assistant via email or at the random acquaintances she chooses to engage. We do get a detailed portrait of our central character and some insight into what would cause her actions but almost all of the other supporting characters are given short shrift.
The tantalizing mystery teased in the film’s title is answered astonishingly early in the runtime and the motivations behind it are often obscured by subplots so spasmodic that I almost lost track of all the ultimately meaningless threads.
As usual, Linklater has assembled an excellent cast of talented performers that make the most of their roles. A commanding Blanchett, riffing on her manic, mile-a-minute-talking role from Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, gives soul to a character that comes across rather soulless on the page. The always welcome Laurence Fishburne turns up in a small role as a colleague of Bernadette’s, who patiently waits through her long-winded rambling before politely jumping in with “You done?” Best of all is Emma Nelson as Bernadette’s staunchest defender, whose emotional arc is one of the strongest points of the film.
Perhaps fans of the novel will find much more to like about the movie, but I’ve found that more often than not, those who have read the source material for a given adaptation tend to scrutinize it a bit harder than those who go in fresh. After all, it’s easy to do a real-time play-by-play analysis when you’re familiar with the story.
But even with no points of comparison, I found myself vacillating between boredom and bewilderment.
For a film that is at least tangentially related to architecture, it’s ironic that Where’d You Go, Bernadette has issues at its foundation that should have been remedied well before the finishing touches were applied.
Coming to theaters this weekend
Ready or Not, starring Samara Weaving and Adam Brody, is a dark comedy thriller about a newlywed who joins her husband and his well-to-do family in a high-stakes version of hide-and-seek.
Angel Has Fallen, starring Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman, is the third installment in the action-packed series about a Secret Service agent once again protecting the president from terrorist attacks.
Overcomer, starring Alex Kendrick and Priscilla Shirer, is a faith-based drama about a high school basketball coach whose championship dreams vanish when he receives unexpected news.