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Sunday, August 18, 2019

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

It's clear that Where'd You Go, Bernadette has been made by talented people.  I found myself admiring a lot of what I saw up on the screen, such as the performances and the settings.  What the movie failed to do was make me feel involved.  This is a dry, disconnected film that never left much of an impression, and pretty much left my head as soon as the end credits started.  This is the last thing we should expect when your movie is directed by Richard Linklater, and stars Cate Blanchett.

In adapting Maria Semple's best-selling novel, Linklater (who co-wrote the screenplay with two others) never quite gets to the emotion that's supposed to be behind the story.  This is a story about a woman named Bernadette Fox (Blanchett), who once was viewed as a star in the world of architecture, and had even won the MacArthur "Genius" Grant for her work, until some unfortunate circumstances cut her dreams short.  Now, she's a wife, a mother to a bright young daughter named Bee (newcomer Emma Nelson), and frequently argues with other local mothers, who genuinely don't like her.  Her chief rival is is her neighbor Audrey (Kristen Wiig), who passes herself off as a "Supermom", with everything under control, but secretly doesn't know how to deal with her own drugged out teenage son. 

It's obvious that everyone in this story is a frustrated, angry individual.  That much comes across loud and clear.  But it constantly feels like Linklater is merely scratching the surface, and that there is so much more to tell here.  I have not read the original book, but I could tell just by watching the movie that something was missing.  The story behind what led Bernadette to end her legendary career seems largely truncated, as if huge pieces of it are missing.  We're not getting all the details, and the script doesn't give what's there the dramatic weight that it needs.  There is something off here.  The characters are always talking about things that should be dramatic and powerful, but they don't quite have the intended effect.  We learn that Bernadette suffered multiple miscarriages before she gave birth to Bee, but the scene where she shares this information seems like it's just kind of pushing this information out there, rather than giving it the impact it should have.  At one point, Bee says that her mother is her best friend, but we don't really get to see that, as the movie never quite touches upon their relationship as strongly as it should.

The whole movie is kind of like that.  I wanted to get involved with these people, and I kept on waiting for the movie to really kick into gear and let these performances by these actors truly stand out.  Instead, the film just kind of meanders along, not really making much of an impression.  This also causes the relationship with Bernadette's husband, Elgin (Billy Crudup), less fulfilling than it should be.  This is strange, as it plays such a huge part in the story.  Her husband is clearly worried about her wife's behavior in recent years.  He fears she is suffering from depression, due to her current state and what happened in her past.  Of course, he is not home around enough to truly notice his wife.  Still, he stages an intervention, which leads Bernadette to literally run away, leaving her life behind, and making her way to Antarctica, so that she can do something on her own, and truly live again.

I assume that all of this works better on the page, where we can truly get inside the minds of these characters.  Up on the screen, Where'd You Go, Bernadette gives us just enough information to go on, without really telling us more than it needs to.  We don't fully understand why Bernadette is so manic, sometimes standoffish, and at times borderline rude.  We don't understand much about her rivalry with many of the local moms.  We don't get much feeling between the relationship with both her husband and teenage daughter, which seems to be a big part of the story that is being told.  Most of all, when Bernadette does decide to run away from it all, we don't get much self-discovery, or much of her finding herself again.  It seems that Blanchett is trying to work overtime here, giving a memorably quirky performance, but she just can't carry this leaden screenplay all by herself.  Neither can the rest of the cast, all of whom are very good, but are not given enough to play off of by the script.

Maybe I would understand these characters better if I had read the book, which I think I might do.  I was intrigued by a lot of the possibilities that this movie points at, but never acts upon.  For a movie about trying to find your creative spark again, this is very cut and dry.  It's been made with some skill, and some of the scenes work, but it simply never resonated.

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