How well you enjoy “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” depends on whether or not you’re familiar with Maria Semple’s popular 2012 novel of the same name. My better-read peers panned “Boyhood” director Richard Linklater’s adaptation for betraying the revered source material by switching up its voice and straightening out the timeline.
On the cusp of a planned family vacation to Antarctica, one-time celebrated architect Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) is rudderless, spending her days meandering through the family’s derelict, cavernous, old Seattle home. She goes out only when necessary — driving daughter Bee (Emma Nelson) to and from school — and interacts with neighbors when she must – for instance, when a neighbor (Kristen Wiig) accuses her blackberry bushes of invading her yard.
To almost everyone, Bernadette is a fulminating, abrupt, and paranoid misanthrope. Why? No one, least of all Bernadette herself, knows. But around the time we’ve grown bored with her boorishness (and this film), so too have her family. They’re so concerned over her ever-worsening demeanor and suspected mental distress that they stage an intervention from which Bernadette momentarily excuses herself to the restroom and thence disappears.
Up until that moment I was asking myself, “Where’d you go, plot?”
Blanchett, who won a Critics’ Choice Movie Award for her 2013 performance in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” playing a similarly oblivious-to-her-reality character, turns in another superb performance here as the joyless artist-turned-menace, though she is rivalled by Emma Nelson as her unrelentingly loyal daughter and “best friend.” I was less impressed with Billy Crudup as her husband Elgin. Laurence Fishburne, as her old mentor, is a treat.
Unfortunately, too little humor makes this one excruciating at times. We get a sprinkle with Wiig and the ongoing neighborhood feud, as well as the contempt between Bernadette and the other mothers at Bee’s private school. All of that is rich ore from which so much comic gold could have been mined, that the sparsity leaves us feeling unfulfilled.
Linklater wonderfully wraps it all up, but the juice might not have been worth the squeeze, as they say. Still, it’s hard not to appreciate what Blanchett brings and that alone is worth the price of admission.
Rating: 2 ½ Honks