Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Where’d You Go, Bernadette (Cate Blanchett. Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig, Emma Nelson) – Cate Blanchett is one of the world’s most versatile actresses.  She has won two Academy Awards (Blue Jasmine, The Aviator), has been nominated for four others, has played in ensembles (Bandits is my favorite, Oceans 8 not so much) and carried films herself (Elizabeth, Carol).  She has worked with many of the best directors and famed actors/actresses.  She is in a handful of the best actresses working today.

As Bernadette Fox, she assumes the role of a reclusive, former world-renowned architect who quit the business after designing two of her dream projects.  She is married to Elgie (Billy Crudup), a highly successful computer engineer whose company was bought by Microsoft, where he works after uprooting the family from L.A. to Seattle.

Bernadette blames her lack of career ambition on the move, spending most of her day putzing around their 9,000-square-foot mess of a mansion.  The inside is a disaster; leaks are everywhere (almost every Seattle scene is rain-soaked); and the outside of the vast property is a tangle of vines and limbs.  Clearly, the Foxes bought the house for Bernadette to re-design but nothing much seems to be happening.

Elgie and Bernadette’s daughter, Bee (newcomer Emma Nelson), is a brilliant middle schooler looking forward to going to prep school just like her parents (yes, this is a tale of rich people).  But all is not right at home.  Bernadette is clinically anti-social and she is hated by her neighbors (most notably Audrey, portrayed by Kristen Wiig).  She does impulsive things with implications for others.  She does little for herself, relying instead on an online personal assistant located somewhere in Asia.  The only person she has a meaningful relationship with is her daughter, who adores mom more than her often work-absorbed father.

The movie opens with Bee, having achieved all “A”s in school, reminding her parents that they promised to let her choose her gift for this accomplishment.  Naturally J  she decides the family should go to Antarctica.  And away we go …

The trailer would have you believe that this is a comedy.  It’s not.  Bernadette is zany, unstable, unhinged, bombastic, blunt and loquacious. But she is falling apart.  Her husband seeks psychiatric help for her, which results in an unsuccessful intervention.  Then the plot turns ridiculous (as if it hadn’t already).

Bernadette escapes from the house, consoles herself with help from the dreaded neighbor, Audrey (really?) and decides to go to Antarctica on her own … without letting anyone in her family know.  Of course, Bee and dad chase after her.  The rest is an unlikely journey into self-reflection that eventually leads to a happy ending (sorry for the spoiler … but not really).

As good as Blanchett is, the movie is actually borderline awful.  Cameos by Laurence Fishbourne, Steve Zahn, and Megan Mullally can’t save it either.  Five-time Academy Award nominated director Richard Linklater, who also co-wrote the screenplay from the novel by Maria Semple, doesn’t work his magic here at all.  His 130-minute film is well-paced if nothing else.

With mediocre audience and critical reviews, Where’d You Go, Bernadette won’t do very well at the box office.  I promise you won’t hate it though.  It just doesn’t come close to living up to the hype.

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