Cate Blanchett is one of the most enjoyable actors working today. No matter the quality of the project she is in, she always delivers. That has led her to two Oscars and more than a few memorable performances. It is not uncommon for her performance to be the best aspect of a movie; sometimes, it is the only good thing. Her latest, Where’d You Go, Bernadette (based on the 2012 novel by Maria Semple), is a mildly interesting dramedy that would be instantly forgettable without her. It is tonally uneven, with an unfocused narrative. Still, there are scenes that click, entirely because of Cate Blanchett. Nothing here is particularly bad, but she makes it occasionally good.
Bernadette Fox was once a respected architect. However, she has not worked in years and it seems to be getting to her. She has a strong social anxiety and may be flirting with depression. Can she find an answer before she destroys herself and everyone around her?
Bernadette only leaves her house when she absolutely has to (she even has a virtual assistant who buys things for her). She is already falling, but really begins to spiral when her daughter convinces her to take a family trip to Antarctica. The rest of the story is about her trying to discover how she turned into the person she has become. It would have been understandable if the person cast as her played her as a bundle of quirks. She is very quirky. Blanchett does not. She plays her as a creative person who forced herself to stop creating. She is funny, frustrating, lovable and a massive pain in the butt. It is a good performance. Unfortunately, the movie surrounding her fails to take advantage of it.
A large part of the issue is tone. Sometimes, Bernadette’s lack of patience for anyone who is not her husband or daughter is played for laughs. Other times, it is meant to be sad. In a couple of instances, it is intended to be meaningful. It can be hard to tell what an individual scene is shooting for. The director is Richard Linklater, who is usually quite successful at being empathetic toward his subjects. Here, he struggles with Bernadette’s complexity and never develops anyone else. While they all bounce off of her, she seems to be existing in a different universe from them.
Her husband is played by Billy Crudup as a man deeply worried about his wife. He is in a drama. Emma Nelson is her sweet and smart daughter, devoted to her weird mother. She is in one of those eccentric indie comedies focused on a teenager with an endearingly odd parent. Kristen Wiig is her next-door-neighbor, seemingly in a comedy about exasperated, hard-working, suburban, stay-at-home moms. It is a character study that does not appear to understand its characters.
Yet through it all, Cate Blanchett is there to carry Where’d You Go, Bernadette (103 minutes, minus the end credits) over some of its rough patches, though not all of them. The inconsistencies are too much to overcome, leaving the movie at okay. The biggest problem is Linklater never figured out what he wanted to say with it. The title refers more to the loss of who Bernadette was twenty years earlier, as opposed to her literal disappearance. The journey to find it has its moments, with too many detours along the way and a far too easy conclusion. Thankfully, they had Cate Blanchett.
3 out of 5
Cate Blanchett as Bernadette Fox
Emma Nelson as Bee
Billy Crudup as Elgie
Kristen Wiig as Audrey
Zoe Chao as Soo-Lin
Judy Greer as Dr. Kurtz
Directed by Richard Linklater
Screenplay by Richard Linklater, Holly Gent and Vincent Palmo Jr.