Starring Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Emma Nelson, Kristen Wiig, Laurence Fishburne, Judy Greer, Steve Zahn, Megan Mullally
Austin Family Critical Rating: ***** of *****
Austin Family Family-Friendly Rating: **** of *****
Review by Jack Kyser. Jack is a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He currently works as a web video editor at Comedy Central for The Daily Show, and writes and directs independent films, which have screened at numerous film festivals nationwide. He has written a film column for Austin Family since 2004.
You wouldn’t know it from the lack of fanfare in the press, but there is a delightful Richard Linklater/ Cate Blanchett collaboration in cinemas right now, and everyone is sleeping on it. Where’d You Go, Bernadette, adapted from the best-selling novel by Maria Semple, is a wonderfully idiosyncratic treasure that deserves a far larger audience.
Austin’s beloved auteur Linklater continues his post-Boyhood streak (after the excellent Everybody Wants Some!! and Last Flag Flying) with the story of Bernadette Fox (Blanchett), a renowned architect who has retreated from the public eye while raising her teenage daughter Bee (newcomer Emma Nelson). Years ago, she relocated from Los Angeles to Seattle with her husband Elgie (Billy Crudup), and in the time since, she’s increasingly closed herself off from the world, abandoning architecture altogether. A self-described agoraphobe, Bernadette spends much of her time inside her house, and certainly does not get along with her neighbors (including Kristin Wiig, whose hilarious obnoxiousness gives way to hidden depths late in the film).
However, as Bernadette’s architectural colleague Paul (Laurence Fishburne) points out to her mid-movie, a creative person who does not create eventually becomes a menace to society. When Bernadette’s behavior finally reaches menace-level proportions, Elgie and a psychiatrist, Dr. Kurtz (Judy Greer), attempt an intervention. Bernadette flees, leaving the family in a desperate search to find her.
I was particularly impressed by Linklater’s treatment of the intervention. Some of Elgie’s reasons for intervening are well founded, while others are based on misunderstandings about Bernadette and her crisis. Linklater does such a good job of painting Bernadette as both an active agent in her own self-destruction, as well as a victim of a society that doesn’t encourage her to thrive as an artist.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette is ultimately a moving story of revitalization – the last act of the film is a joyous one, in which Bernadette comes alive again and flourishes as an artist. This is also a terrific mother-daughter film, with Blanchett and Nelson exuding a warmth in every scene they share together.
This is the kind of movie for which so many cinemagoers yearn, particularly amidst the loud, brainless films of the summer – a mid-budget, original film for adults starring one of our greatest actresses, and crafted with humanity and care by one of our finest filmmakers. But when one finally arrives, it goes unnoticed and most folks stay home. I highly encourage you to get out there and support another treasure from Linklater (as well as Annapurna Pictures, a studio continuing to release rich, complex films in an age where they’re very much needed).
Where’d You Go, Bernadette is rated PG-13 for two uses of profanity, but the film is otherwise suitable for most audiences. I’d recommend the film for ages ten and above.
Reviewed by Jack Kyser , a graduate of Austin High School and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.