Where’d You Go, Bernadette: Linklater’s Comedy, Starring Cate Blanchett

Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Richard Linklater’s new film, is based on the 2012 bestseller of the same name by Maria Sample, which offered a wild, witty, even reckless account of a female misanthrope.

The book emerged as sort of an inspirational comedy of a middle-aged femme named Bernadette Fox, an architect, wife and mom who becomes compelled to reconnect with her creative passions after years of sacrificing herself to her domestic. Bernadette’s leap of faith takes her on an epic adventure that jump-starts her life and leads to her triumphant rediscovery.

Linklater co-penned the screenplay with Holly Gent and Vincent Palmo Jr., so it’s impossible to tell who did what.

On paper, the film boasts a terrific ensemble, headed by the brilliant Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig, Emma Nelson, James Urbaniak, Judy Greer, Troian Bellisario, Zoë Chao and Laurence Fishburne.

But, alas, despite good ingredients, Linklater’s movie is not particularly interesting, and it seems to be off right from the first scene.

Some of the film’s problems derive from the writing, which is not particularly clever or witty, and from its central figure that even the accomplished, two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchette cannot salvage.  It’s one of the few occasions, in which you feel Blanchett working too hard to lend humanity to the characters, resulting in a distanced, mannered performance.

Who’s is Bernadette Fox? She’s the winner of MacArthur “genius” grant for creating a huge House, constructed from materials in its vicinity. But when a tycoon bought the site and destroyed it, the disappointed Bernadette retreated to Seattle to live in seclusion with her Microsoft star husband and raising their teen daughter.

Bernadette is clearly a misanthrope, a woman who hates everything, people, especially the other parents at her daughter Bee’s school; she even hates leaving the house.

When she disappears, Bee (Emma Nelson) sees it as her mission to find out Bernadette’s whereabouts and what has really happened to her.

The letters, emails, texts, newspapers and police reports, which offered clues when Bernadette went missing, were more effective in Sample’s book than in Linklater’s disappointingly verbose movie.

In the end, strong doubts remain as to why a proficient director like Linklater has chosen this material, and whether Bernadette deserves a movie of her own.

Cate Blanchett as Bernadette Fox
Billy Crudup as Elgin Branch
Emma Nelson as Bee Branch
Kristen Wiig as Audrey Griffin
James Urbaniak as Marcus Strang
Judy Greer as Dr. Kurtz
Troian Bellisario as Becky
Zoë Chao as Soo-Lin Lee-Segal
Laurence Fishburne as Paul Jellinek
Claudia Doumit as Iris
Steve Zahn as David Walker
Megan Mullally as Judy Toll