Cate Blanchett vehicle suffers from implausible script
I like the star, Cate Blanchett. I respect director Richard Linklater. The story, based on Maria Semple’s acclaimed novel about a gifted architect who loses her creative spark, seems topical, even potentially compelling. And therefore, one must ask, why is Where’d You Go, Bernadette? so crushingly disappointing? Perhaps for those same reasons; in essence, the film’s component parts offer a promise upon which the final product resoundingly does not deliver.
When we first meet Bernadette Fox (Blanchett), she seems to be a witty, dynamic, albeit eccentric modern mom tightly bonded to her precocious child and comfortable with her high-powered computer engineer husband. They live in a glorious wreck of a remodeling project home in suburban Seattle, and Bernadette alternates her parenting responsibilities with long text conversations with her Indian online assistant, Manjula. Bernadette’s eccentricities (charming to the viewer because they are portrayed by Cate Blanchett) seem less benign to those around her, including her husband and the neighbor busybody, Audrey.
Details from the past slowly emerge that explain Bernadette’s current quandary, and Laurence Fishburne shows up in one scene to pronounce the movie’s grand theme. Nevertheless, plot events escalate, and when confronted with something of an intervention, Bernadette disappears from Seattle and her family’s life. The rest of the story follows in parallel her subsequent adventures and her family’s efforts to find her and bring her home.
The prevailing problem of the film is a screenplay that can’t seem to make up its mind…about much of anything. The movie’s tone is lurchingly comedic and dramatic. The plot is jam-packed with coincidences and implausibilities. And the script (co-written by Director Linklater, Holly Gent and Vince Palmo) doesn’t even draw a clear bead on its main character: are we supposed to find Bernadette quirky and charismatic, or should we worry about her mental health, as some of the other characters clearly do? I fully realize that real life, and real people, are messy and not always consistent, but I do expect a movie—and its screenplay—to have its own internal coherence. By contrast, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? plays like a grab bag of narrative threads, rhythms, and personality traits tossed unceremoniously into the same film.
Blanchett gives her usual bravura performance, lending the character an appeal that I do not think is truly warranted. Kristin Wiig as neighbor Audrey and Billy Crudup as Bernadette’s distracted husband are less convincing in poorly drawn roles. Only adolescent newcomer Emma Nelson as daughter Bee manages to survive the inconsistencies of the story.
There are moments when Where’d You Go, Bernadette? genuinely entertains and others when it hits a resonant chord, both mostly when Blanchett is on screen. But for the most part, the movie disappoints because it doesn’t deliver on its abundant initial promise.
Coming in September: Stephen King’s killer clown returns to torment the kids from the first film now grown into adults, It Chapter Two, Sept. 6; Nicole Kidman and Ansel Elgort star in The Goldfinch, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Donna Tartt, Sept. 13; the familiar (and extensive) cast of PBS’s landmark British gentry drama finally come to the big screen in Downton Abbey, Sept. 20; and Chadwick Boseman and Sienna Miller head the lineup of a contemporary police thriller set in Manhattan, 21 Bridges, Sept. 27.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette?: 2 out of 5 stars