Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Emma Nelson
Watch Where’d You Go, Bernadette online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Virgin Movies / Rakuten TV / Google Play / CHILI
Cate Blanchett is one of the best actors working today, something that she’s proved time and time again in everything from Carol and Mrs America to Thor: Ragnarok, I’m Not There and How to Train Your Dragon. The prospect of her teaming up with Richard Linklater, a director whose vérité style of filmmaking draws out natural, raw performances from his cast, is one to savour. Where’d You Go Bernadette, quietly released on digital this week in the UK, certainly tickles your tastebuds, but doesn’t quite sate your appetite.
The film, based on the best-selling novel by Maria Semple, is the latest entry in the unofficial MacArthur Grant Cinematic Universe – joining Charlie Kaufman’s Synechdoche, New York – in which protagonists are awarded a huge sum of money to realise their creative genius. Bernadette receives her funds due to her gift for architecture, and she spends it on completing her Twenty Mile House, a Los Angeles abode that’s built from materials only sourced within a 20-mile radius.
A dream house, a loving daughter, Bee (Emma Nelson), and a tech guru husband, Elgie (Billy Crudup), who is making big advances in artificial intelligence? Bernadette seems to have it all, but is also deeply unhappy and sports a wide anti-social streak. Delving into the source of her frustrations and anxieties gives Blanchett some interesting, meaty material to sink her teeth into, and she’s marvellous at playing the quietly seething artist who can’t stand the trappings and superficiality of suburbia. She’s darkly funny, deliciously deadpan and oddly sympathetic in her impatience and inability to empathise with those outside of her family – including her equally frustrated neighbour, Audrey, played by Kristen Wiig.
It’s a shame, then, that the script doesn’t manage to turn that interesting character into a more rounded piece. From the off, there’s a range of plot points trying to drive the narrative, including a virtual assistant called Manjula, Bee’s desire to take the family on a trip to Antarctica, Elgie hiring Audrey’s daughter, a landscaping disaster, a distracting FBI investigation and a conviction to help to save the environment.
Whether it’s due to the adaptation by Linklater and co-writers Holly Gent and Vincent Palmo Jr – which leans on a slightly clunky documentary to deliver exposition early on – or (more likely) copious editing in post-production, these strands never really coalesce. As a result, the focus keeps moving away from Bernadette and the title – which stems from Bernadette briefly disappearing – doesn’t become relevant until a rushed final act that feels like it’s from a different film.
The cast, however, are all committed to the quirky, shifting tone, with Billy Crudup (who recently dazzled in The Morning Show) balancing professional ambition and personal affection and cameos including Laurence Fishburne and Steve Zahn lending some weight to Bernadette’s predicament. Together, they assemble a thoughtful exploration of a woman rediscovering her own creativity and purpose. But while it’s worth tuning in for Blanchett alone, by the time the beautiful and uplifting end credits roll, the through line that the cast are following, like the missing question mark from the title, slips out of sight.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of an £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription. For the latest Sky TV packages and prices, click the button below.
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