After watching the trailer, I really thought this would be an interesting film about some engaging characters. I especially thought Cate Blanchett looked intriguing and I liked the concept of a mother who goes AWOL after things go wrong. After seeing the movie, the concept is different than expected but Cate Blanchett shines in the role, the characters are eccentric, and the story is absolutely entertaining.
From acclaimed director Richard Linklater, and based on the New York Times best-selling novel by Maria Semple, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is a hopeful chase through the complicated world of a brilliant, creative architect, Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett.) A legend in the field of architecture, winner of the McArthur Grant and one of the first female architects to be known as a great, she abruptly disappeared off the scene twenty years prior. She moved with her husband, Elgin (Billy Crudup) to Seattle, in a beautiful mess of a house and living with her beautiful and charming daughter, Bee (Emma Nelson) who she adores but neighbors she doesn’t like and no work to pursue, leaving her to belittle the city she lives in and in a constant state of anxiety and unhappiness. Her husband attempts to fix the issue with a therapist while her daughter Bee embraces her mother’s eccentricities. Bernadette’s neighbors, especially Audrey Griffin (Kristen Wiig) dislike her as much as she does them and eventually, things with the neighbors and her issues boil up surrounding a family trip to Antarctica and Bernadette runs from her family but in doing so, will she find herself or will she lose her family?
Quite honestly, the element that makes this film so charming is the eccentricity and entertaining characters in this film, especially Bernadette. Bernadette is sarcastic, anxious, a loner, and pretty much hates everything except her daughter Bee and her husband Elgin. Elgin is unique as well, as he attempts to figure out what he can do to make Bernadette happy unlike Bee who figures out her mother, while not perfect, connects to and loves her, is creative and unusual. While Elgin focuses on fixing Bernadette, Bee embraces her mother, eccentricities and foibles alike. Even neighbor Audrey is interesting and quirky in her dislike for Bernadette. Among the main characters, the film features many small, bit characters played by such powerhouses like Laurence Fishburne and Steve Zahn. These bit parts add depth and flavor to the film.
Another engaging aspect of the film is the writing. One of the things many movies attempt is to put in the backstory. This film has managed the unusual, putting backstory in a movie without dragging down the story, writing it in a realistic fashion, and it is done in a completely new way. It explains much of Bernadette’s character without taking the film out of the now and helping the viewer understand that much of the question raised in the title of the film is about more than Bernadette running away from her family. It is also about what happened to the creative parts of Bernadette, what happened to that genius that she has inside, her artistic side. The real question is whether Bernadette can rediscover who she is, her creativity and still hold onto her family. In addition, the comedic elements blend well with the mystery but still will have the audience laughing. It is a charming and rich story.
Beyond the intriguing story and the unusual characters, it really is the acting that sells this film for me. Cate Blanchett shines. She exudes the very essence of creative genius and artistic flair. The way she presents the character gives the audience information about the story and the character immediately. She is engaging and knowing other creative types, completely relatable and engaging. Billy Crudup as Elgin does a nice counterpoint to her, a mathematical, logical genius to her creativity. Their chemistry is perfect as you feel the distance between them and wonder if they will ever be able to bridge the gap between the pair. Even more beautiful is the dynamic between Emma Nelson and Cate Blanchett. They do a realistic portrayal of mother and daughter, both of whom are artistic and bonded with each other. Kristin Wiig as Audrey is funny, dynamic and energetic in a way that balances Cate Blanchett, even when their characters are at odds. All of the actors do a brilliant job, whether the role is large or small.
The only drawback is that the movie builds up Bernadette’s creative abilities and we never get to see the full culmination of her vision in the story. Only in the credits do we get to see her work but it is in progress and we don’t get the completed work. I would have liked to have seen more of her new work in the film.
Overall, this is a funny and insightful movie with quirky characters and inspired acting. If you like comedies, mysteries, and sarcastic women, with backbone, this film will be engaging and creative types will relate to Bernadette’s issues. I felt Cate Blanchett was just perfect and I loved this film.