Since he drew my attention via “School of Rock” (2003) and “Before Sunset” (2004) when I was young and wild, Richard Linklater has seldom disappointed me during next 20 years, and that is why it is really depressing to see how he somehow failed in “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”. Even though several years have passed since it came out in 2019, the movie remains one of a few misfires in Linklater’s long and illustrious filmmaking career due to several bad reasons, and you will be relieved by the fact that he soon moved onto several next projects after this unfortunate failure of his.
The movie, which is based on the novel of the same name by Maria Semple, mainly revolves around a woman named Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) and her husband and their adolescent daughter. As shown from a YouTube video clip appearing in the middle of the film, there was a time when Bernadette was destined to become another great American modern architecture to be admired, but, after some very unfortunate incident, she has led a rather reclusive life along with her family in some suburban area of Seattle, Oregon. Their house looks so shabby on the outside that it occasionally feels like a distant cousin to the house of the Addams Family, but she has been mostly content with being stuck there along with her family, though her computer engineer husband Elgie (Billy Crudup) is usually busy with his work involved with Microsoft.
Anyway, their daughter Bee (Emma Nelson) has somehow grown up well under her troubled mother and frequently busy father, and she is quite eager to go to a certain spot in the Antarctica before going to some expensive dormitory prep school. While she is not so enthusiastic about the trip to the Antarctica compared to her daughter and husband Bernadette agrees to go there along with their family, and then that somehow leads to some anxiety problem to her – especially as she comes to clash more with several other mothers in her suburban neighborhood including Audrey Griffin (Kristen Wiig), who happens to live right next to Bernadette’s house.
Via her growing conflict with Audrey, we come to see more of how antisocial Bernadette really is. All she needs to do is stepping back a bit for her neighbor, but she deliberately causes a series of annoyance for Audrey and other mothers in the neighborhood. Although Bee does not care that much about this ongoing conflict, she shows some concern like any good daughter would, and so does Elgie, who has patiently tolerated Bernadette whenever he is not busy with working outside.
However, we do not care that much about what is happening on and around Bernadette because the adapted screenplay by Linklater and his co-writers Holly Gent and Vince Palmo fails to present its heroine as a believable character to draw our interest. No matter how much it emphasizes her suppressed artistic skill and talent, we never get to any sense of life or personality from Bernadette, and she just remains to be an annoyingly capricious person who really needs a private intervention session. As a matter of fact, Elgin comes to hold a private intervention session for his wife later in the story, but that does not bring anything much to the story and characters except a ridiculous subplot involved with some federal investigation.
In the end, the movie arrives at the Antarctica along with its several main characters as expected, but we still observe them from the distance without much care or attention. Sure, our troubled heroine eventually comes to find how she can get herself back in element, but the movie curiously lacks any kind of dramatic impact even at that point, and the following ending feels middling at best and lackadaisical at worst.
For Cate Blanchett, the movie now looks like a sort of warming-up exercise for her subsequent Oscar-nominated turn in Todd Field’s “Tár” (2022), where she plays a different kind of talented but deeply problematic professional. However, while she has lots of things to handle in “Tár” (2022), “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” does not provide much to her from the beginning, and the result comes to feel increasingly one-note along the story despite her diligent effort.
Around Blanchett, several notable main cast members are criminally under-utilized while being stuck with their under-developed supporting parts. While Emma Nelson has a bit more things to do besides doing the narration of the film, Billy Crudup often seems lost in his thankless role, and the same thing can be said about Kristen Wiig, who can be very funny but only ends up hitting the same note again and again here without much nuance. The movie is sometimes brightened up by the brief appearances of David Paymer, Megan Mullally, Laurence Fishburne, Steve Zahn, and Judy Greer, but they simply come and go without leaving much impression on the whole, and Fishburne is particularly wasted in his redundant single scene with Blanchett.
In conclusion, “Where’d You Go Bernadette” did not impress or entertain me much mainly because of its bland and superficial handling of story and characters, and I am now considering revisiting Linklater’s subsequent work “Apollo 10 1⁄2: A Space Age Childhood” (2022), which has much more style, personality, and life in comparison besides being one of better works from Linklater. Believe me, you will have a much productive time with the latter, and you may thank me later for my inconsequential suggestion.