Maria Semple’s 2012 comedy-adventure novel “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” ascended to the top of the New York Times best-seller list, where it lived for more than a year.
Readers clearly became invested in the trials and tribulations of Bernadette Fox, an anxiety-ridden, sleep-deprived, incredibly gifted architect who hadn’t designed anything in years.Richard Linklater, the talented director of an eclectic group of films that range from “Before Sunset” and “Boyhood” to “School of Rock” and “Waking Life,” talks in the movie’s notes about how challenging it was to adapt the novel.
Well, that’s how his adaptation, which gets a spirited performance from Cate Blanchett (“Ocean’s 8,” “Carol”) as Bernadette, plays — like he couldn’t quite get his arms around it.While “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” has plenty of entertaining moments — and it’s perhaps a bit unfair to say this without having read the book — it feels as though Linklater and his co-writers, Holly Gent and Vince Palmo, struggled with what to include and what to omit from Semple’s story.
It’s fairly entertaining, but you can’t escape the feeling that it should have been even more entertaining.
Its first beautiful shot is a calming overhead of kayakers in what will prove to be Antarctica. We suspect that’s where Bernadette will go — at least in a literal sense — but we can’t be sure.
As we are soon formally introduced to Bernadette, husband Elgie (Billy Crudup) and daughter Bee (newcomer Emma Nelson), the girl announces that what she wants as a long-promised gift before she goes away to boarding school is for the three of them to visit Antarctica.
As time has passed, Bernadette has grown increasingly uncomfortable around people, so she immediately starts to dictate things she will need for the trip — to an unseen assistant in India with whom she communicates electronically. She also schemes to get out of the trip. (Being stuck with a bunch of strangers aboard a ship? Please no, she thinks.)
Meanwhile, there’s constant conflict only several yards from her Seattle-area home in the form of busybody neighbor Audrey (Kristin Wiig) — one of Audrey’s current preoccupations is nagging Bernadette to get rid of the wild blackberry brambles along her property line — who’s also queen of the moms of students at the private school Bee attends.
Sure, Audrey’s a pain, but Bernadette seemingly has a great life. She and Bee are thick as thieves — it’s a real friendship shared by mother and daughter — and Elgie is a kind man with a high-paying job at Microsoft.
However, after designing a few renowned, highly creative homes in which her family lived, Bernadette stopped working and has become largely withdrawn. Understandably, Elgie worries about his wife, believing — probably correctly — that she may benefit from some form of counseling.
“I think we should revisit this idea, find somebody for you to talk to,” he says.
“I’m talking to you,” she says dismissively.
Even as it becomes more and more evident that Bernadette has serious issues, Bee sticks up for her, eventually laying into her father, including serving him a big pile of guilt for all the time he spends at his job. As Bee sees it, anyway, at least her mother is around.Eventually, Bernadette’s hand is forced, and she will go … somewhere, leaving Bee and Elgie to fear for both her physical and mental well-being.
In the hands of Linklater — who’s strong films also include “Dazed and Confused,” “Last Flag Flying” and “Bernie” — “Bernadette” is a vibrant, energetic affair. It never bores.
It does, however, frustrate, the journey of its main character feeling at times too bizarre, at others too easy.
As nice of a performance as this is from Blanchett — a two-time Academy Award winner who commands your constant attention with ease — it’s a little hard to root for Bernadette at times. She’s an exciting burst of energy at points, and you can’t help but be swept into her orbit, but also can be self-absorbed to an unappealing point.
There’s a nice plot development that propels the film into its final, all-important act, but the storytelling is a little rocky after that.
You could do far worse than finding “Where Did You Go, Bernadette,” but the journey isn’t as engrossing as you’d hope.
Where Did You Go, BernadetteIn theaters: August 16Rated: PG-13 for some strong language and drug materialRuntime: 1 hour, 44 minutesStars (of 4): 2