Where’d You Go, Bernadette? – 2019

Director Richard Linklater
Screenplay Richard Linklater, Holly Gent, Vince Palmo based on the book by Maria Semple
Starring Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig, Judy Greer, Laurence Fishburne, Emma Nelson

My wife had been wanting to see Where’d You Go, Bernadette? from the very first moment she heard the book was being made into film. She had to wait a while. Then a while more. Then even longer. Finally, it was pushed out to August of 2019…when she was on her trip to Northern Europe. And it only lasted one week. She saw it with her sister when she came back. It was already on video. For a movie directed by a significant director like Linklater, the word of mouth for the film was horrible.

My wife and sister-in-law, both having loved the book, feel similarly about the movie. I did not see the book. Fortunately, the film is not really bad, even if one goes into it without having looked at more than the trailer beforehand.

The story is about Bernadette Fox (Blanchett), who gave up a promising career in architecture in order to become a housewife in Seattle. She has four miscarries, and then she and her husband Elgin (Crudup) have the light of their lives Bee (Nelson). Bee also had challenges while growing up. She has overcome them to the point of perfect grades, earning a trip to…Antarctica.

The idea of the trip is unsettling to Bernadette at first. Then again, everything is upsetting to her by now. She hates her neighbor (well, people in general), she hates Seattle and hates leaving her house. She has problems with prescription pills. She has problems with her marriage. Her husband seems to be there, but only between shifts at the Microsoft-type company at which he works.

She gets along with Bee, though. Before long, the idea of this trip is appealing to Bernadette. Before she can go, though, she’s confronted by her husband. He works with a counselor and the law to corner her, and she escapes out the bathroom. Where did she go?

Well, there aren’t many people in Antartica once you get there.

Where’d You Go… has a good cast, story source and director. The elements don’t necessarily come together, but this is okay. The film is listed as a comedy, but it doesn’t give the viewer a ton of laughs. I spent a good portion of the film wondering whether this is because I tend to identify with Elgin, even though he’s really not that likable. Wait…?

The main contention with the film is we get a real impression that Bernadette is some sort of genius who has denied herself and the rest of the world the benefit of her gifts. Nothing but her own damaged ego caused her to do this. Sure, she acts rashly, then gets caught up raising a child. She doesn’t regret this, but her outward behavior sure gives the impression that she does. This detracts from the sympathy one usually ascribes to the protagonists. There is undoubtedly something one misses when they haven’t read the book.

If you want to give it a chance, there are worse ways to spend one’s time. The ending makes sense in terms of fulfilment of purpose. It also feels a tad unrealistic to find anyone to finance a gigantic project in such a remote location. Kind of like The Cosby Show in the ’80’s or Home Improvement in the ’90’s. No problem is too big when money is not an issue.

They lost me at “How does one afford a trip to Antarctica?”

(*** out of *****)

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