21
Nov
2019
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Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Architect wife, Bernadette (Cate Blanchett) and Microsoft genius Elgin (Billy Crudup) have it all. Installed in a perfectly-converted factory in Seattle, they even have a smart kid too, Bee (as played by Emma Nelson).

Scoring perfect school grades, Bee reminds them that they’d promised her anything if she passed – and she wants them all to go on an Antarctic holiday. Caught out by their own gratitude, both adults begrudgingly agree to go. However, faced with the very real prospect of leaving her home, housebound Bernadette starts to wrestle with the realities that this promise will actually entail…

... Linklater's latest pins its butterflies on to its lapel instead of a more caustic frame.

In adapting Maria Semple’s novel ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’, director Richard Linklater has unfortunately left most of its social satire on the page. In dissecting first world problems as felt by some very first-world people, Linklater’s latest pins its butterflies on to its lapel instead of a more caustic frame.

Waltzing from room to room, from car to school and back again, Cate Blanchett’s Bernadette is an archly abrasive, Anna Wintour clone keeping the world at bay with her polarised lenses. Delivering the kind of clipped yet engaging martinet that Blanchett that can really excel at, Bernadette’s angry anxiousness invades every situation. Sarcastically predisposed to hate the cloyingly cliquey attempts of neighbour Audrey (Kirsten Wiig) of perfect motherhood, it quickly becomes clear that Bernadette has disdain for everyone.

So whilst all of this toxically unfolds, an inescapable expectation makes its presence felt: There must be a pin-drop moment coming which will cast her prickliness in a different light. The medicine cabinet that bursts with hoarded medications; Bernadette’s chronic insomnia; her increasing mental fallibility; or her concern for Bee’s distant future – all of which teases the concealment of a much darker, more serious storyline. Sadly, however, it is not to be. By injecting a natural disaster into the lives of all concerned, any hinted-at, meatier material quickly becomes ‘Meet The Fockers‘ instead.

Add to this Billy Crudup’s Elgin sadly crumpling man charged with only the plot’s bidding, and you realise that amongst other things, a decent character arc might not have actually broken his back. Instead, Emma Nelson’s Bee has to make all the adult decisions. In an insipid world where parents either treat their children as snowflakes or equals, all of them are disappointed when their offspring hold them to adult account. In this parody of a Microsoft employee enclave gone brogue, aspiration is the glue that keeps a family together or sugar coats their worthy consumerism as ‘child-raising’.

Ultimately bereft of any consistent tone, sense of contrast or a point to make, ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ finishes as starved of questions as its title does of punctuation. Where usually a film’s certification triangle shows the viewing age, expect to see a “baby on board” sticker – because in this surfeit of saccharine nobody else is driving.

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