It’s never a good sign when a movie shifts release dates multiple times. That was the case for Where’d You Go, Bernadette, the latest film from acclaimed director Richard Linklater. After an initial release scheduled for May 11th, 2018, Where’d You Go Bernadette shifted back to October 19th, 2018, only to then move to March 22nd, 2019…and then again to August 9th, 2019. And just for good measure, Annapurna moved the release date one more time to August 16th. Because that extra week was going to make all the difference!
Granted, it’s always possible that greatness can come from turmoil on a movie set. (How many times have you heard someone bring up Jaws when discussing films with troubled productions?). But the fact remains, behind-the-scenes troubles normally beget public frustrations, leaving viewers scratching their heads by a product that feels incomplete or disjointed. Sadly, Where’d You Go Bernadette feels similarly muddled.
The following review will be spoiler-free.
Directed By: Richard Linklater
Written By: Richard Linklater, Holly Gent, and Vincent Palmo Jr.
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Emma Nelson, Kristen Wiig, Zoe Chao, Laurence Fishburne, Judy Greer, Megan Mullally, and Steve Zahn
Bernadette Fox (Blanchett) was once considered a visionary, a top-notch architect with an unmatched visual sense. But after a mishap with one of her previous designs, Bernadette feels out of place. Now living in Seattle, Bernadette struggles to find any passion whatsoever as her husband Elgin (Crudup) thrives as a leader at Microsoft. Her days consist of sitting at home, failing to keep her home tidy, and waiting until her daughter Bee (Nelson) is finished with school so that she can pick her up. And when she leaves the house, she routinely bumps heads with local do-it-all mother Audrey (Wiig).
Until one day, after the family stages a bit of an intervention, Bernadette abruptly vanishes, leaving Bee and Elgin with no choice but to track her down.
Annapurna is in a Precarious Position
Annapurna, one of the production houses behind Where’d You Go, Bernadette, made news for all the wrong reasons when many publications announced recently that the company was on the verge of filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Thankfully, after weeks of negotiation, CEO Megan Ellison managed to resolve approximately $200 million in debt to financial institutions, thanks in large part to her father Larry Ellison, the co-founder of Oracle. Megan Ellison has announced that Annapurna will now press forward without seeking a new line of credit from financial institutions, but will find financiers on a case-by-case basis or even self-fund certain projects.
Although Annapurna seems safe in the short term, the picture still remains murky. Much has been made of the studio’s flops and underperformers with Booksmart coming in far below expectations early this summer. Not to mention that a TON of funding was spent on Vice, If Beale Street Could Talk, and The Sisters Brothers in 2018. All three of those films underperformed or flopped hard, most notably The Sister Brothers which only made $13 million worldwide on a $40 million budget. I fear a similar fate for Where’d You Go, Bernadette. As I watched WYGB scuffle along during my screening, it was difficult not to think of Annapurna’s financial troubles, with the scattershot product mirroring a lot of unrest behind the scenes.
In my estimation, Annapurna was far and away the most interesting mainstream studio of the 2010s, accounting for some of the more fascinating auteur-driven, solidly funded movies. Perhaps their struggles point to the issues that many others currently have with Hollywood: the mid-budget, adult movie — something that Annapurna has almost exclusively produced or distributed — is dying as IP-connected mega-blockbusters and super indies dominate the marketplace. These are harsh times for studios like Annapurna, but I am sincerely wishing for the best for the company moving forward.
Cate Blanchett is Always Perfect
As for the content itself, all the flaws are very noticeable, but it sure is lucky to have the great Cate Blanchett. The actress has had an interesting go of it the last few years, starring in many pop films such as Thor: Ragnarok, Ocean’s Eight, and The House with a Clock in its Walls, among many other voice roles and smaller performances. Where’d You Go, Bernadette feels like a return of sorts to a prestige acting vehicle that we haven’t seen in a few years, maybe since Carol in 2015.
WYGB shows us once again just how great Blanchett is — not that we needed much of a reminder. She props up the rest of the movie with her semi-manic performance, displaying a strong sense of inner turmoil as she fails to complete some of the more casual duties around her house. She always has a defense mechanism up, showing her uncomfortable tics as she badly hides her problems in public settings. As Laurence Fishburne’s character articulates, because Bernadette has lost her ability to create and express herself, she has started retreat inward while also becoming somewhat of a menace to society. You really get the sense that Linklater himself is working through some of his own inner monologues as one of the best active American filmmakers while directing this film.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette is Never Subtle
The ideas displayed in Where’d You Go, Bernadette regarding mental health and creativity aren’t the main issue as I see it, but rather how they’re presented. The film begins with a long-winded voice-over from Bee explaining what she believes is the problem with her mom, which has the grace and subtlety of an unbelievably drunk man trying to play the piano.
The rest of the film doesn’t get much better. Linklater routinely fumbles the thematic beats of Where’d You Go, Bernadette as they hit you with a blunt force similar to one of Bernadette’s homes collapsing in on itself. I’d like to think that this issue comes from adapting the highly acclaimed source material into a film. Personally, I haven’t read the book, but those that have note that the book takes place inside of the characters’ heads or with their written works for long stretches of time, which is very difficult to literalize in a film. My guess is that most of the issues in Where’d You Go, Bernadette come from this struggle. Some books are just much easier to adapt than others.
We see this manifest many times with Billy Crudup and Emma Nelson’s characters. Each actor has to deliver entirely too blunt dialogue. (My favorite of which is when Crudup has to say something to effect of “My god! Could it be possible that I haven’t been good to your mother?” This movie is SO lucky that Crudup is a fantastic actor!) Thankfully they’re both very talented so it pays off some of the time.
Richard Linklater Struggles to Balance Tone
As I mentioned above, Richard Linklater is a master filmmaker, a person who always seems to have a firm understanding of the movie he is creating. Shockingly, I could never get a grasp on what movie Where’d You Go, Bernadette wanted to become. The film mixes together elements of comedy, drama, and mystery in a way where they are constantly fighting for the spotlight, yanking each other off stage with one of those comically sized vaudeville hooks over and over again.
I found myself utterly confused with how to react in certain scenes. Where’d You Go, Bernadette has a nervous, gentle humor side that feels out-of-place next to the fairly dark and troubling issues that Bernadette is working through. One scene involves Bernadette explaining that she has put all over her medication into a single jar to create a colorful design. I still can’t tell you if this was supposed to be a throwaway gag or a sign of some deeper trauma. Most of the movie operates in that same area as well, trying to be both humorous and harrowing but falling short in each area.
If you squint hard enough, you can see a great movie within Where’d You Go, Bernadette. It has a tremendous cast that is game for the proceedings, led by the continuously fabulous Cate Blanchett, who is simply lovely no matter the role she takes on. Billy Crudup is always wonderful to see as well. I even look forward to what newcomer Emma Nelson has in store for us next.
Unfortunately, Linklater himself seems like the person to blame here. He along with his writing partners Holly Gent and Vincent Palmo Jr. played with plenty of ideas of creativity, artistic drive, and mental health but struggled to bring it all together. WYGB consistently botches its tone and routinely lacks a sense of purpose or drive. Simply put, it’s a lot of interesting ideas that don’t amount to much. For a movie directed by Richard Linklater and starring Cate Blanchett, you can’t help but feel disappointed.
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On the other hand, I really liked this film but agree about its awkwardness. The off-kilter worked a bit for me, since Bernadette is such a mess. It is accurate to say that Blanchett carried the whole thing. No surprise, since it’s all about Bernadette’s fractured internal life. As an artist and writer, I connected with the horror of having one’s work destroyed. The aftermath can be an odd but very corrosive shame. It’s easy to get knocked off track by that sort of travesty, much like a violence done to a child. If one doesn’t suck it up and get back on, things will get progressively worse, until a way is found to retrench.
saw this trailer and thought it wasn’t going to offer up too much to satisfy viewers. Not that it is full proof when you watch a trailer that you will know 100% how effective or (not) good/great the movie will be, but putting a quirky character on paper is not enough. I love A Scanner Darkly, Dazed and Confused, and even The Newton Boys so hopefully his next movie will be better.
I think it will be! Linklater is too thoughtful of a director to continuously make lackluster material. Sometimes the narrative just doesn’t come together — it happens to every great director!
Not everyone can churn out a great product whether it be a movie, book, art piece, that is very true. I should watch more of his later stuff. Thanks for the review.
Not a bad idea! He has quite the filmography :) thanks for reading!
I like Cate Blanchett as a performer, but not enough to see this movie.
A wise decision! There’s plenty of other better movies with Cate Blanchett involved :)
I was afraid that the movie version this enormously entertaining book would go south. I haven’t seen it yet. Cate Blanchett would not have been my first choice for the lead though she is superb, and I’m glad she turned in a fine performance. I will see it eventually but this may be one of the many cases where the book offers more than the movie.
I think that’s probably the case. The entire film feels like a mess of ideas whereas I haven’t heard a single bad thing about the book — WYGB is probably best saved to watch on HBO
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