Finding One’s Self in ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’

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CHICAGO – There is something so lovely about a film that unfolds slowly, until the moment occurs when a multi-layered story occurrence takes the breath away. “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is such a film, portrayed with a magic subtlety by Cate Blanchett, one of the finest film actors working. She lives a life that is broken, but not in ways we suspect.

The concept of genius is the theme, the type of genius that is world changing. Imagine a Steve Jobs disappearing shortly after the iPhone is introduced, and finding him years later completely outside what we know him for. This is what happens to Bernadette in the film, and the director Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”) allows it to transpire as a mystery. It takes a bit to get into gear, as Kristen Wiig distracts as a wacky neighbor, but even she comes into her own when the essence of Bernadette is revealed. This film is really for anyone who felt cut off from the thing that made them great when life intervened, and then perhaps is given that elusive second chance. “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” – based on a best selling novel – is relatable on many levels.

Bernadette (Cate Blanchett) is an upper middle class stay-at-home Mom who is rehabbing a large house in Seattle. Her husband Elgie (Billy Crudup) is a high-level software developer and her daughter Bee (Emma Nelson) is of high school age. Bernadette is constantly distracted by life, which includes a difficulty connecting to people like her neighbor Audrey (Kristen Wiig).

Cate Blanchett is the Title Character in ‘Where’d You Go Bernadette’
Photo credit: Annapurna Pictures

It is eventually determined that Bernadette has a past, associated with a skill that was stratospheric in its influence and notoriety. But something happened, and now the Mom hiding in Seattle is having a bit of a breakdown. When a economic breach occurs because of Bernadette’s carelessness, it begins a series of events that leads her down another path.

The original novel is by Maria Semple, and director Linklater had two co-adapters (Holly Gent and Vince Palmo) to visualize the words. Richard Linklater is a natural storyteller who also likes to experiment with form. In “Bernadette,” he has a documentary within the film that people discover along the way about the title character, and it has an edge to it that is both comedic and revealing. It’s fascinating to explore a character that can’t shake the thing they do, because despite a different life it still defines them.

There is a formidable supporting cast, led by the always the reliable Billy Crudup. His husband character is conflicted, and gives his wife her space, but at the same time he knows self destruction when he sees it. As mentioned, Kristen Wiig starts out as a bit of a stereotype, but takes it to a new place through some delicate story shifts. The folks in the documentary stand out, including character favorites Steve Zahn and Laurence Fishburne. In the credit fraud scenes, Judy Greer steps in as a too-sincere psychiatrist and James Urbankiak plays it strange as an FBI agent.

The Hero and the Husband (Billy Crudup) in ‘Where’d You Go Bernadette’
Photo credit: Annapurna Pictures

The exploration of genius is most appealing. Linklater obviously has the same fascination, because he allowed the secrets of Bernadette to be interpreted by Blanchett in a step-by-step disclosure. Her character secrets are embodied through her, and as they are announced another phase of Bernadette begins. It’s truly a masterful performance, full of contradictions and unexpected turns. The combination of the powerful story and Blanchett’s finely-tuned acting made Bernadette sing.

The end is only the beginning of something else, the story seems to say. It takes an ending, either decided upon or decided for her, that jump starts the new beginning. “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”? The film is dedicated to the next phase of existence, and this time she won’t need roads.

“Where’d You Go Bernadette” opened everywhere on August 16th. Featuring Cate Blanchett, Judy Greer, Kristen Wiig, Billy Crudup, Laurence Fishburne, Steve Zahn, Emma Nelson and Megan Mullally. Screenplay adapted by Richard Linklater, Holly Gent and Vince Palmo. Directed by Richard Linklater. Rated “PG-13” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Editor and Film Writer

© 2019 Patrick McDonald,

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