Where’d You Go, Bernadette

An intimate character study plagued by cliché

By Bradley Lane

Writer-director Richard Linklater is one of the most enigmatic and well-rounded directors working in the Hollywood studio system today. Beginning his career with the cult classic 70s nostalgia trip Dazed and Confused, Linklater went on to bounce back and forth between making art house gems and mainstream classics. The same person who directed the sprawling 12-year shoot of Boyhood delivered the comedy classic School of Rock. He adapted legendary science fiction author Phillip Dick’s novel, A Scanner Darkly, into a rotoscope animated film specifically to utilize the form to more properly communicate the ideas of the novel. This is all to say, Richard Linklater can write and direct any movie he chooses to take on despite stylistic, genre and tonal differences, all while maintaining a unique signature throughout his filmography.

His newest project is an adaptation of a novel by Maria Semple centered around an artist who must reckon with having put her career on hold in order to raise her daughter. Bernadette Fox is a well-to-do former architect married to a successful tech developer, with a straight-A-student at one of the best elementary schools in the nation. From the outside it seems as though she has it all, but beneath her many layers of irony and general disinterest in the people around her, she is suffering. It is this unique suffering that the film focuses on, and that ultimately leads to the disappearance of Bernadette Fox.

First and foremost, the standout attribute from the film, like with most Linklater films, is the detailed and naturalistic writing from Linklater. His writing brings so much depth in the dialogue to every character on-screen. Unfortunately, while the dialogue does shine through, the events as they unfold seem suspicious in motivation, and often feel as though they rely on trite plot conveniences to move the story along. This can most likely be attributed to having to adapt a larger work to the confines of a two-hour runtime.

The titular Bernadette serves as not only the focus of the story, but also as the main vehicle for the messaging of the film. This puts a lot of pressure on Cate Blanchett to deliver a performance that is emotive, but not over-the-top as to cheapen the film’s themes. This is exactly what Blanchett does, and she makes it look so easy. Blanchett disappears into Fox and without such a strong performance from her, the film would be much weaker. This in part to the frankly, underwhelming presentation of the film. Despite some beautifully shot architecture, the film’s look is bland and homogeneous with any run-of-the-mill Hollywood drama.

Even with these flaws, I found myself shedding a few tears as the credits rolled. The film is a bit of mixed bag, but it is ultimately effective in conveying just how important it is for artists to push forward through trials and tribulations. -3/5 stars