The loneliness and misunderstanding of the creative self-starter.
Twenty years after abandoning the LA architectural scene for family life in Seattle, Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) has it all: successful husband Elgie (Billy Crudup), smart daughter Bee (Emma Nelson), and all the time and money in the world to do as she pleases. While committed to her family, none of it is what she wants… or desperately needs. Distraught over a crushing betrayal in her past, a withdrawn Bernadette begins to feel the tinge of inspiration she needs and the willingness to take the risk. When the perfect storm of her antisocial behavior toward an overbearing neighbor (Kristen Wiig), a long-distance diagnosis from an unethical doctor (Judy Greer), and the poisonous whispers of a smitten assistant (Soo-Lin) all threaten to derail her self-directed comeback, Bernadette does what she’s become adept at: run away… as fast as she can.
Based upon the bestselling novel by Maria Semple of the same name, it’s a tale as old as time: taking advantage of the eclectic creative while they’re producing and shunning them whenever they aren’t. As people are caught up into and consumed by their own little worlds, they rarely venture into the actual lives of others, let alone make any attempt to see things through other people’s eyes. When viewed through their own rose-colored lenses, unexplained behaviors can be misinterpreted as warning signs to others, too often drawing the wrong conclusions. With a stellar cast and an unmistakable lead, does the book translate to screen in a way old fans and new audiences can appreciate?
For a film that indeed lumbers through its first act, its an essential buildup of character development that takes off like a rocket as it streaks toward the end. Blanchett disappears into her co-dependent, withdrawn, and tortured artist completely while still managing to communicate genuine humanity to empathize with her character; even if one can’t relate to her, almost everyone knows a “Bernadette.” For those with a touch of “the Fox” themselves, the portrayal is insightful, from agoraphobic confrontations with genuine admirers to the epiphany of discovering something new and interesting. At its core, however, this is a film about assumptions of others, failures in communication, and a stern warning about loss if these issues are not overcome.
It’s clear director Richard Linklater has a sense of bringing this story to life, also co-writing the screenplay adaptation. The character of Bernadette is smart — and she damn-well knows it — but has trouble communicating with people that doesn’t think the way she does. When a neighbor demands the removal of vegetation from her hillside overlooking the property, it doesn’t take a genius to see the potential disaster in progress. Rather than endure the scorn of “you don’t know that” or any number of other snide looks or remarks, Bernadette smugly gives her assumed rival all the rope she needs to hang herself with. Anyone outside of that circle could easily brand that behavior as destructive, but watching as she discovers a vine beneath her carpet and, at the cost of damaging her own home, grants the tendril a means to escape and thrive, it’s easy to see who she is… and also what’s important to her.
Viewers will understand why Bernadette holds nothing but loathing for “stupid humans” intent on destroying rather than working within their environment, but her fear of being judged for that same insight is almost as much to blame. Only her daughter Bee (also serving as the film’s occasional narrator) fully understands her mom, that she poured her talents into raising a daughter while shunning her once-sought-after calling. While the mother-daughter relationship is only one facet of what’s going on, it’s the beacon of light Bernadette clings to until she’s able to let herself see another, confident that Bee will be fine on her own. It’s a good thing, too: hell hath no fury like a creative scorned.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette is rated PG-13 for some strong language, drug material, and trusting the Internet with the details of your life.
Four skull recommendation out of four
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