After several delays and re-evaluations of the marketing campaign, Where’d You Go, Bernadette (no question mark) is finally hitting theaters this weekend. Different from anything else filmmaker Richard Linklater has done before, this quirky mid-life crisis adventure-comedy mostly works due to a great cast and lots of visual style.
Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Maria Semple, the film follows an introverted former architect whose passion to create is rekindled when her domestic life in Seattle turns upside down. Some of the challenges that Bernadette faces are weird or even downright bizarre, but that is a big part of what makes the film so charming. Once you get used to the unabashedly odd nature of the story, it becomes quite lovable.
That said, the film did have some troubles with pacing. It does take a bit too long (twenty or so minutes) for the film to find its rhythm, but after it does, it becomes rather bouncy. That is until the end, which is way too abrupt. Ultimately, all of the conflict is resolved, but it seems like there needed to be a few more minutes to wrap everything up. The ending almost feels like it cuts off in the middle of a line, which is extremely awkward.
The film’s humor also won’t land with everyone. Although people with an offbeat and sometimes dark sense of humor will likely enjoy the film thoroughly, some may find it to be too dry for their tastes. There are a few jokes that are total misses, though, including one or two that likely sounded funnier to the writers when the film was written, or even when it was going to be released last year, and now feel like they are in poor taste.
Another issue with the film is that an air of affluence radiates throughout the film, and none of the characters or filmmakers seem to be aware of it. The inciting incident for this film is that a young girl asks for a trip to Antarctica because she is graduating from middle school. If that isn’t upper-class white privilege, what is?
However, despite the fact that they are not aware of their privilege, the characters are still very compelling. Bernadette is likable despite her antisocial tendencies, and even though she is experiencing an identity crisis that many of us would be lucky to experience, it is still an identity crisis, and as such, there is some element of relatability to that. Additionally, her relationship with her daughter also goes a long way in making her more sympathetic.
Cate Blanchett does a wonderful job in the eponymous role. Although she is perhaps better-known for her hard-hitting and emotionally complex turns, she is just as great at letting loose in roles like this. She has an infectious energy about her and is a big part of why the film is so fun to watch. She is also supported by an impressive supporting cast, including Billy Crudup, Emma Nelson, Kristen Wiig, Judy Greer, and Laurence Fishburne. Young actress Nelson is particularly impressive, giving a fun performance that shows she has the potential to be a talented leading lady in the future.
The film is also quite strong on a technical level. Apart from a few instances in which it seems like there may have been a bit of interference after the fact (like the ending), Linklater’s vision really comes through. The bright color scheme, excellent production design, and cinematography are all aesthetically-appealing and make the film more fun to watch. This may not be Linklater’s most artistically complex work, but it is definitely a well-made film as a whole.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette isn’t perfect, but it sure is a joy to watch. What you will expect, what you were marketed, and what you will get are likely three different things, but hopefully you will be just as charmed and pleasantly surprised by the final product.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette hits theaters on August 16.