Unfortunately, Richard Linklater’s adaptation of Maria Semple’s 2012 best-seller doesn’t make a smooth transition to the screen.
Semple’s anarchic, non-linear story revolves around an affluent, if eccentric, middle-aged woman who submerges her identity with that of her family, losing her sense of self. On paper, her daughter’s inner thoughts propel the narrative. On-film, this doesn’t work.
The opening shot shows Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) alone in a kayak, navigating through Antarctica’s ice floes – a setting to which the story will return.
A flashback reveals that Bernadette lives in a ramshackle, old mansion in suburban Seattle with her workaholic husband Elgie Branch (Billy Crudup), an artificial intelligence Microsoft millionaire. They have a devoted 15 year-old daughter Bee (Emma Nelson) and a golden retriever named Ice Cream.
Before marriage and motherhood, Bernadette was an innovative architect, recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant. Now a stay-home-mom, she’s a reclusive neurotic, acidly sparring with her uptight neighbor Audrey (Kristin Wiig), who hires a “blackberry abatement specialist” to probe the undergrowth between their homes along with battling to maintain “global correctitude” at a posh private school.
At lunch, a former colleague, Paul Jellinek (Laurence Fishburne), perceives Bernadette’s dilemma. “People like you must create,” he tells her. But how – after many years – can she re-ignite her creative spark and retrieve her sense of self?
Cate Blanchett notes: “What I find really poignant about Bernadette is these crazy, absurd monologues and the relationship she has with a virtual assistant because she’s so isolated. People don’t often talk about how you can be in a really happy, successful relationship but still feel alone.”
Adapted by Holly Gent, Vincent Palmo Jr. and director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Boyhood, the Before trilogy), it suffers from an uneven, inconsistent tone and oversimplification of the complicated source material. On the plus side are cameos from Judy Greer, Steve Zahn, Zoe Chao and Megan Mullally.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Where’d You Go, Bernadette is an anticlimactic, floundering 5, not unlike its heroine.