Film, Film Review

REVIEW: Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2019) dir. Richard Linklater


Recently, it seems I’ve been telling myself “everything’s getting crazier by the day” much more often than I would like to. Whether it be where the world is heading politically or the continuing evolution of current technology, shit’s getting weirder. Most dishearteningly, I have to now tell myself that I live in a world where Richard Linklater directed one of the worst movies of the year, unfortunately starring Cate Blanchett.

What’s going on guys, did we actually die in 2012? Are we in a pseudo purgatory?

Where’d You Go, Bernadette follows our titular character as she struggles to get through a mid-life crisis all the while getting ready for a family trip to Antarctica. All of this comes to a head as Bernadette finally breaks down and runs away from home, forcing her daughter Bee to go on a search for her.

As Bernadette juggles too much in her life, this film is a juggling act in itself. It handlies the abundance of sub-plots with little to no care, and like an ADHD riddled kid in a candy store, it loses focus every couple of minutes.

That’s not to say Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a failure entirely; even if the film deals with too many dilemmas, the one at the heart of the story is great! Bernadette Fox, played by Cate Blanchett with more passion than this film deserves, is a complex and emotionally challenging character– one that deserves an equally challenging film, which Bernadette is not. Blanchett jumps between the duality of manic and mother with ease, and is filled with enough energy to allow the film to crawl to the credits.

With the difficulty of following Blanchett, the supporting cast does their best to keep up, notably Kristen Wiig shining above the rest as the pompous next door neighbor. Billy Crudup is fine. Judy Greer is fine. Newcomer Emma Nelson is fine. The weak entourage of supporting characters would be much more acceptable if it wasn’t for the fact that we spend so much time with them.

With too many characters comes too many conflicts, and it’s in the outrageous amount of conflicts where the film ultimately collapses. At times it is a mother-daughter tale, while at other points it’s a story centered around the crumbling marriage. Throw in a rivalry between Bernadette and the whole city of Seattle plus a weird, out-of-nowhere FBI investigation, and you have a stew of issues. When a scene involving the main character’s self reflection is lost in an edited mess of side situations, you know something’s wrong.

It doesn’t help that the film has this weird Young Adult novel vibe it can’t shake, showcasing the story of a mid-life crisis with a sly, tongue-in-cheek playfulness one would find in something like Perks of Being A Wallflower. It’s ultimately off-putting and detrimental to the overall tone.

Much of the disappointment of Where’d You Go, Bernadette really stems from the lack of artistic touch from Richard Linklater. Though directed and co-written by Linklater, you’d be hard pressed to find an ounce of his influence in this film. The conversations don’t flow like they should, and his slice-of-life style is gone. This is a point-and-shoot for the veteran director, not much different than his work on something like Bad News Bears or Last Flag Flying. Dazed & Confused, this is not.

At the center of the story is the actual disappearance of Bernadette. Advertisements would have you believe her running away would be the crux of the story, but this twist doesn’t show up until the 90 minute mark of this two hour movie. Any ounce of mystery is thrown right out as we follow her misadventures through her own perspective, ultimately defeating the purpose of the “where did Bernadette go?” plot point. This may be a personal problem and might be more indicative of my own personal tastes, but this story would be much more exciting if we didn’t see where Bernadette disappeared to in the first 5 minutes of the movie.

By the time we get to Antarctica, Where’d You Go, Bernadette continues to ever-so-slowly inch itself towards an obvious, half-assed resolution anyone could see coming. We knew where the plot was going the whole time, we knew the resolution; let’s just get on with it so we can go home.

Bernadette is a test of time and patience. Maybe if you’re a fan of the book you’ll enjoy this, but a movie should stand on its own independently from its source material, and this does not.

Don’t bother to find out where Bernadette went, it’s not that exciting.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette
dir. Richard Linklater
130 min

Opens everywhere Thursday, 8/15 (though the Hassle recommends Kendall Square Cinema, Somerville Theatre, or your local mom-and-pop multiplex)

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