Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) is going through her own slow-burning mental breakdown in Richard Linklater’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette. Once a world-renowned architect, Bernadette is living in a slowly decaying fixer-upper mansion in Seattle with her tech-entrepreneur husband Elgie (Billy Crudup) and daughter Bee Branch (Emma Nelson). Unfortunately, Bernadette engages herself in a war with her neighbor, Audrey (Kristen Wiig), her community, and herself.
In need for some family time together, Bee implores her parents to go on an excursion to Antarctica before she heads off to boarding school. As Bernadette and Elgie are quick to agree, Bernadette immediately begins to stress out about the trip itself. Thus begins the torturous mental deterioration of Bernadette, ultimately leading to her disappearance from her family and life at the end of the second act (and as the title suggests).
“…Bee implores her parents to go on an excursion to Antarctica before she heads off to boarding school.”
Cate Blanchett can play any role, and Bernadette is not an easy character to pull off. She loves her family but hates being around people. She has long drawn out complaints about life, and the only person willing to listen to her is her virtual personal assistant (i.e. an iPhone app). She is not liked by her neighbors and community and resorts to passive-aggressive sabotage when neighbor Audrey asks her to maintain her overgrown landscaping. Bernadette always believes she is right and thinks she can fix any problem, particularly her own…by herself.
Watching Where’d You Go, Bernadette is essentially like eating comfort food…really expensive comfort food. It’s a good, wholesome story about being who you are. And it’s a high-quality masterpiece at the same time. Linklater continues to prove he’s a great director and storyteller. Cate Blanchett has the acting horsepower to carry an entire film, while pulling off an incredibly complex character at the same time. The supporting cast is equally brilliant, particularly Billy Crudup as the long-suffering, supportive husband, Emma Nelson as Bernadette’s daughter and best friend Bee, and Kristen Wiig as Audrey the quirky neighbor (dangerously on the way to being typecast).
“…like drinking a 90-minute cup of hot chocolate.”
The problem with the film is although we walk away from the theater with a good feeling inside, the film lacks an edge…particularly a dark one. Everyone in the movie is good, wholesome people. No one’s really the villain. Bernadette’s problem is not all that surprising. And by the end, everything ties itself up with a cute, little bow…a bow from the Hallmark Channel. If it weren’t for the actors, locations, celebrity cameos, and direction, Where’d You Go, Bernadette would have come off as irrevocably bland. It gets real close, though. That’s why some people put Tabasco on their meatloaf—a little kick goes a long way.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette is worth recommending. Watching it is like drinking a 90-minute cup of hot chocolate. Not for a full-price movie ticket, but it’s perfect for movie night or the occasional run on cable television during the holidays.