Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2019)

WYGB_02053_RC2 Cate Blanchett stars as Bernadette Fox in Richard Linklater’s WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE, an Annapurna Pictures release. Credit: Wilson Webb / Annapurna Pictures

Directed by: Richard Linklater | 105 minutes | comedy, drama | Actors: Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Emma Nelson, Kristen Wiig, Patrick Sebes, Zoe Chao, Lee Harrington, David Paymer, Megan Mullally, Laurence Fishburne, Steve Zahn, Patrick Jordan, Shaun Cameron Hall, Kathryn Feeney, Richard Robichaux, Amy Rayko

When one of the greatest directors of his time (Richard Linklater) makes a film with one of the most accomplished actresses of her generation (Cate Blanchett), it is only an understatement to say that expectations are high. Many film buffs will have become enthusiastic about the news of this collaboration. After all, a Linklakter movie starring Blanchett should be a great success under any circumstance, right? However, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” proves us otherwise.

The idea behind “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is interesting – the once successful architect Bernadette Fox (Blanchett) hates her contemporary existence. She is annoyed by the town where she lives with her family, her old colleagues, her neighbors and especially the parents of the children who go to school with her daughter Bee (Emma Nelson). Bernadette also suffers from anxiety and sleep disorders as she spends most of her day at home and her virtual assistant Manjula puts forward all kinds of nonsensical orders. Husband Elgie (Billy Crudup) thinks it is high time for an intervention. To his regret, however, it does not come to that, because Bernadette disappears without a trace. Daughter Bee desperately tries to find out where she went. During this search, she discovers that her mother lived a very secret life that she knew nothing about.

Richard Linklater has mainly earned his fame as a director through the films in which it seems as if he just lets the lives of his characters pass quietly on the big screen. In “Dazed and Confused” (1993), the focus of his story is on a group of high school graduates who use their newly acquired freedom to party. In his three-part “Before” series to date, he follows Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as Jesse and Céline for one day and observes how their love story unfolds. And in “Boyhood” (2014), Linklater shows the process of a growing boy over a period of no less than twelve years, in which he, like his actors, kept getting older. His latest film “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is probably the film that bears his signature the least. The film is a careful book adaptation of Maria Semple’s bestseller. It is difficult to determine why Linklater wanted to film this book, but it is clear that a great deal was lost in the editing.

Linklater has taken on too much hay with this film adaptation. There is not a single story element here that gets a full-fledged treatment. “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is a film that, as a result, goes in all directions. On the one hand it is a drama about a broken family, but on the other it is also a comedy with idiosyncratic slapstick moments. A Linklater movie usually contains significantly more and better humor. Cate Blanchett nevertheless tries to deliver a good acting role for the flaws of the script. Amazingly enough, she succeeds in this. She knows how to perfectly express the eccentricity and tragedy of her character. At times, the role looks a tad like her Oscar-winning role in “Blue Jasmine” (2013), but she does it so well that she should be forgiven. A less good argument can be made for Linklater. Linklater, whose oeuvre is mainly characterized by little plot and many dialogues, negligently relinquishes his greatest strength here. The filmmaker has more to offer.

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