The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

Follow Us On:


Far, Far Away

Cate Blanchett
Cate Blanchett
Annapurna Pictures
 130 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed ByRichard Linklater
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup
Where'd You Go Bernadette

The short answer to the question Where’d You Go, Bernadette, which happens to be the title of the new movie starring Cate Blanchett as the title character, is Antarctica. By the way, that’s not a spoiler; the very first scene in the film shows Bernadette kayaking in an Antarctic landscape. The long answer, and the answer of most interest to potential filmgoers, however, is that Bernadette somehow got lost in the pages of a script that couldn’t really translate a problematic novel to the screen.


Bernadette Fox is a middle-aged woman who is a walking collection of tics, quirks, and neuroses. In her youth, she was a highly promising architect, married to a high-tech up-and-comer. But, following a professional disaster (which is only revealed much later in the movie), Bernadette retreats into a misanthropic, agoraphobic shell of her former self. When her husband Elgie (Billy Crudup) takes a job at Microsoft, she goes with him and soon holes up in the dilapidated old mansion they buy. Bernadette’s only interest, beyond occasionally playing at renovating the house, is bringing up her teenaged daughter Bee (Emily Nelson), the only person with whom she feels any real connection. Beyond that, her only other significant contact of sorts with the outside world is a virtual assistant from India, with whom she communicates exclusively through emails she dictates into her phone. 


The novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette was structured as a traditional mystery, albeit one with a most unusual narrative style. The story is told from the point of view of Bee, who is trying to figure out where her mother has gone. In doing so, she finds and goes through a mountain of old correspondence and emails about her mother, as well as various clippings and articles. As she reads them, she gradually learns who her mother really is, since she was mostly unaware of many of the episodes portrayed in the film. Bee doesn’t figure out until late in the book that Bernadette might be in Antarctica, but it’s no bizarre whim. Instead, it’s the manifestation of a trip that Bee herself suggested that the family take but which she thought her mother had rejected.


The novel’s plot structure is admittedly challenging to turn into a screenplay, but director Richard Linklater, who co-wrote the script, manages to botch it royally. The events and episodes that are gradually revealed in the book are thrown at viewers willy nilly on the screen. In one scene, Bernadette is trying her best to get an illegal prescription for some heavy-duty medication; in the next, she’s arguing with her neighbor Audrey (Kristen Wiig) about the upkeep of her property. There’s no real rhyme or reason in the way scenes are thrown at the screen, and the drastic mood swings that the film version of Bernadette goes through emphasize the disturbed nature of her personality without giving viewers any greater insight into just what her problem is. 


The way events are laid out in the movie, there’s little mystery as to where Bernadette went. And the audience will quickly understand just why she went, since Linklater stages an intervention for Bernadette that comes as the walls are figuratively crashing in around her. That allows Linklater to send Elgie, Bee, and Bernadette to Antarctica (actually, Greenland, the shooting location) to spend the last half hour or so of the movie just missing each other from stop to stop on the voyage.


What is a mystery in the movie version of Where’d You Go, Bernadette is just what Bernadette’s real problems are. To make his movie more acceptable to mainstream audiences, Linklater provides an answer of sorts late in the film, at least to the question of what it’s going to take to make Bernadette well again. And, in the tradition of mainstream romantic comedies, the answer revolves around some dime-store philosophy.


But for the first 90 minutes of the movie, I confess that I never got a handle on Bernadette other than the realization that she had problems. And, since the entire film revolves around her, that makes for a confusing hole at the center. It doesn’t help that Linklater can’t really decide what type of movie he’s making either. At times, such as when Bernadette bickers with Audrey, I got the feeling that I was sitting in on a B-level sitcom with an A-level cast. At other times, I felt like I was watching a movie about a woman dangerously on edge. And, at still other times, I got the feeling that I was in an old-fashioned soap opera.


With most actresses in the lead role, Where’d You Go, Bernadette would be an insufferable mess. Fortunately, two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett isn’t most actresses. Even though her performance as a whole isn’t consistent, it’s not her fault that her character is inconsistently written from scene to scene. Blanchett delivers a bravura performance here, with several scenes that match her best work. Indeed, when Blanchett as Bernadette is onscreen, the movie has an oddly compelling air about it. Also, it’s in the scenes in which she appears most disturbed that Blanchett is most effective. She avoids the temptation to go all-out bonkers. Instead, her performance remains within the bounds of credibility. Also, in retrospect, her actions have a sort of logic to them.


A book that comprises random letters and correspondence from a disturbed woman’s life is readable and, when considered as a whole, can make sense. Although I haven’t read the novel, I can see that version of Where’d You Go, Bernadette working dramatically. On the other hand, a series of random videos of that same woman at different times (which the movie often resembles) doesn’t make sense. While I could accept many of Bernadette’s decisions individually, the film just didn’t work when I combined them. The fault here lies with Richard Linklater, who never quite gets a grip on his source material. The movie is noteworthy for allowing the audience to see a great actress at her best, but as a dramatic (or comic) work, Where’d You Go, Bernadette is still Missing in Action.

In this scene, Cate Blanchett talks about her career with Laurence Fishburne.

Read other reviews of Where'd You Go, Bernadette: 

Where'd You Go, Bernadette (2019) on IMDb