Creative types will likely relate to “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” the big screen adaptation of Maria Semple‘s 2012 novel. I felt an almost spiritual attachment to the titular character Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett), a star architect who is desperate to reconnect with her visionary passion after years of putting her other true love on the backburner.
Bernadette loves her family, including adoring husband Elgie (Billy Crudup) and quirky teenage daughter Bee (Emma Nelson), but loathes just about everyone else on the planet. They have a pretty cool life in dreary Seattle, where mom spends her time rehabbing an old house and terrorizing the busybody neighbor (Kristen Wiig), but something is missing. When Bee requests a family trip to Antarctica, the trio decide to take an epic adventure that may just jump-start Bernadette’s life and send her down the road to rediscovery.
Blanchett brings a charming neurosis to her sophisticated, complex character, a wisecracking, part cynic who suffers from a severe form of artistic depression. She’s unhappy and unfulfilled, but not in the human relationship elements of her life. Bernadette is a no-nonsense antihero dealing with her own creative drought.
This isn’t a bleak film at all, it’s actually quite heartwarming. There’s a very realistic mother-daughter bond that is reminiscent of “Lady Bird,” and it’s refreshing to see a dedicated, loyal workaholic husband character that’s supporting his wife instead of stepping out on his family. The story is so good and the dialogue so effective that the writing is one of the strongest elements of the film. The impassioned performances leave their mark too, as everyone (and everything) feels authentic.
Director Richard Linklater is at his best when he tells smaller scale stories about real human relationships, and he’s the perfect match for this material. Linklater treats his leading character with a respect and gentle understanding that will make you root for her success on her quest for self-discovery. This is one of my favorite films he’s ever done.
Another big win for the film is the way the story is told in unexpected ways, be it through the eyes of a teenage daughter, through private therapy sessions, by watching internet videos, or catching up with an old friend at a restaurant. It’s clever yet never feels quirky, and the sarcastic wit keeps things grounded. “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is a very funny, touching, and poignant film that explores what happens when an artist stops creating.