"Where'd You Go Bernadette" Movie Review Essay

Four times. The release of Richard Linklater’s adaptation of Maria Semple’s best-selling novel Where’d You Go Bernadette was delayed four times—from its original release date of May 2018 to October 2018 to March 2019 to August 9, 2019, before landing at its final resting place of August 16, 2019. Either Annapurna Pictures has a horribly scatter-brained scheduler, or the studio honchos were perhaps hoping that if they delayed the film long enough, the world would end before this thing ever saw the light of day. (Alas, however, our pesky Earth just keeps on spinning.)

Based on the mess of a film Bernadette turned out to be, I’m inclined toward the latter.

Granted, the prospect of making a movie from the quirky, pseudo-epistolary novel must have been a little daunting for Linklater, who co-wrote the script with Me and Orson Welles’ Holly Gent and Vince Palmo, but that’s still no excuse for the woefully half-baked end result—particularly given the stellar cast he assembled, which includes Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig, and Laurence Fishburne.

Blanchette stars as the titular agoraphobe, a former renowned architect now living in Seattle with her Microsoft big-shot husband and their daughter Bee (newcomer Emma Nelson). When Bee convinces her parents to hold up their end of a deal (anything she wants as a reward for a perfect report card), she chooses a family trip to Antarctica, setting in motion a melange of events that culminates with Bernadette flying the coop.

Fans of the book should, frankly, not even bother. So much of Semple’s fun tome is rewritten, tweaked, glossed over, or flat out dropped altogether that you will no doubt exit the theater wondering what in heaven’s name you just witnessed. Strangers to the book may not fare much better, either.

To find out that Linklater, the mind behind the Before trilogy, Boyhood, and School of Rock is responsible for this catastrophe is nothing short of mind-boggling. Playing like a horribly amateurish Lifetime movie, Bernadette features some of the most obvious green-screen work in recent memory, a script with exposition so clunky that you’ll wonder if Linklater thinks his audience is a gaggle of five-year-olds, and a profusely head-scratching decision to answer the central question (the one right there in the title) with the film’s opening shot.

The one saving grace (and yes, there’s only one) is Blanchett, who somehow takes the worst script she’s ever been saddled with and turns it into something that proves with absolute certainty that a great actor can rise above anything. It wouldn’t surprise me at all, in fact, to see Blanchett garner a little attention come awards season, even as her film remains the odds-on favorite for the Golden Raspberry.

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