“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” wastes several actors’ talents and a good book that could have been made into a better film.
Boring for long stretches at a time, it tries to show what a celebrated architect does when she’s confronted about her behavior.
Rather than answer to her family and friends, she flees her house and goes on a one-woman journey to Antarctica.
The site isn’t as random as you might think. Her daughter (Emma Nelson) wants the family to go there on vacation and Bernadette’s husband (Billy Crudup) agrees.
The bulk of the film, however, is spent painting Bernadette (Cate Blanchett) as a recluse who doesn’t really like dealing with people. She won a MacArthur Grant, was hailed as one of the best architects of her generation and became a Wright-level idol to many in the field. Rather than embrace her status, she retreated into her rather odd Seattle home. There, she concentrated on other things – including her daughter and an odd vine that worked its way up through her floors.
In print, all of this might be quite delightful and offbeat. On screen, it’s just odd, particularly since Blanchett has chosen an Anna Wintour look that only conceals what heart lies beneath. She plays the role with sincerity, but it’s not enough to make you want to follow her around the contours of her home.
Crudup, as a tech genius, is more than willing to put up with her eccentricities. He relishes his world and doesn’t really care that Bernadette doesn’t interact in hers.
When a mudslide affects her neighbors, the outside world begins to creep in and Bernadette begins to panic.
While other films have handled a crisis of confidence with more aplomb, director Richard Linklater lets it fester. That either makes you fed up with Bernadette or unfazed. Support is hardly the point. Here’s the story of a woman who could get help but doesn’t.
The film works only when Linklater is filling in the blanks. Through documentaries, sketches and other ephemera, we discover what she really was before she became a bundle of nerves. That might have been a better film, but it’s not mined.
Instead, “Where’d You Go” chips away at a personality until it doesn’t exist. It tries to be funny from time to time (Kristen Wiig plays a critical neighbor) but it’s never funny funny, just mildly amusing.
The trip to Antarctica has its moments, but it’s not enough to justify the effort it took to get there. We know where Bernadette went. We’re just not sure she’s worth the effort to follow.