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Main| Five Underrated Edward Norton Performances for his 50th »
Sunday
Aug 18 2019

Review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette

byMurtada Elfadl

What if that one thing that you cared about and that you built your life's work around was gutted away from you violently?Can you recover?How do you cope in the days and years that follow?These are some of the questions that Richard Linklater is trying to answer with his adaptation of the Maria Semple novel,Where'd You Go,Bernadette?

Bernadette (Cate Blanchett) is a harried mom (to Emma Nelson's 15 year old Bee) and wife (to Billy Crudup's Elgie) in Seattle.She spends her days in her big semi-rundown house trying to manage the small details of her family's life,but mostly running away from facing the minutiae and drudgery of those tasks by composing long email and text messages to her virtual assistant Manjula.But Bernadette's life wasn't always so banal and she wasn't in perpetual war with everyone she meets (Kristin Wiig plays her nemesis and next door neighbor).She used to be a genius architect with lots of promise until she suffered a major career setback that she couldn't recover from.

If you are a fan of the novel you might not recognize what you liked about it from this adaptation...

Linklater smoothes over the singular and quirky tone of the novel.He's more interested in the kernel of the ideas in the novel but not the whole.When the movie is following Bernadette's professional heartbreak and its ramifications and how that affected her life,it's stirring and heartfelt.However these central ideas get bogged down in the plot machinations of the Semple novel.The tension between the adaptation and the novel ultimately doesn't enhance the movie,and Semple's social satire and comedy of manners among the Seattle private school mother set goes missing and never found,unlike Bernadette.Suffering most from this dissonance is Wiig's Audrey,I wish we got to see her sparr more with Bernadette.

What the adaptation opens up is Bernadette and Elgie's marriage,exploring how a spouse can lose their partner and not afford them the support they need despite love and shared experiences.No wonder Bernadette runs away.Also affecting is the mother daughter relationship,and Blanchett and Nelson etch out a credible loving relationship.Watch them belt out Cyndi Lauper's ‘Time After Time' in an impromptu car karaoke session and see if you can keep your eyes from watering.

Blanchett remains best when playing unravelling women,however this is not a companion performance to her signature Oscar winning role inBlue Jasmine(2013) but rather I found myself thinking of another of her creations.The bored housewife who chooses to be kidnapped by bank robbers rather than continue filling her days with housework,inBandits(2001).Bernadette is just as trapped as Kate Wheeler was and Blanchett manages to imbue her with the right chaotic temperenant to convey a woman confined by psychological trappings she can't begin to face,let alone conquer.She's always been a master of gestural acting and here she plays up her facial expressions and gives her body movement a fussy restless energy to show us how Bernadette is longing for more.

The first half of the film is tighter and funnier.Linklater spends the second half trying to tie together the unruly plot and in the process diffuses the sharp edges of his protagonist.Despite that he manages to makeBernadettea profoundly touching experience in telling the story of a woman trying to find if there's a second act to her life despite debilitating trauma.And who among us can't relate to that?B

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Reader Comments (4)

Unfortunate.This is an epic disaster for Cate Blanchett.

August 18,2019 | Unregistered CommenterMargot

@margot Would love to hear why you think this movie is an epic disaster for Cate.

August 18,2019 | Unregistered CommenterGoodbar

Because it's a $20m movie that could not even gross $4m.Plus she is the lead,which a movie studio will never bankroll for her again.

August 18,2019 | Unregistered CommenterMargot

Where'd You Go,Bernadetteis an odd movie that was unmarketable which explains the continuous date changes for its release.I ended up enjoying it despite not being able to recommend to anyone who isn't either a fan of the director or Cate Blanchett.Cate's performance and character is really strange throughout the early half of the movie.I was beginning to think she's incapable of playing ordinary people without being highly affected.There's plenty of Jasmine in an Anjelica Huston raven-colored bob wig in this movie.

August 18,2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

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