Saturday 23 November 2019

Where'd You Go, Bernadette ☆☆☆☆☆

Richard Linklater is a filmmaker that anyone with an interest in film will be familiar with. With titles like Slacker, Dazed & Confused, the Before trilogy and the 12-year opus Boyhood in his filmography, he’s certainly someone you can rely on. Hell, Time Magazine’s 2015 list of the 100 most influential people in the world included him – what an honour for the guy who gave us Matthew McConaughey’s iconic “alright, alright, alright” moment. Linklater is at his absolute best when he pens original material – when he adapts novels, not so much. I was sceptical when Maria Semple’s 2012 novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette was due to hit the big screen with Linklater directing. And honestly, I was right to be.

Former architect Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) seems to have it all – a beautiful home, a successful and loving husband, a loving daughter – but she hates people, she hates leaving the house, and more than anything, she hates the other parents at her daughter Bee's (Emma Nelson) school. When she disappears without a trace, it is Bee's mission to find out where she has disappeared to and what really happened to her, embarking on an exciting adventure to solve the mystery. Despite this promising premise from a best-selling and hilariously satirical novel, the film is a totally disappointing mess. This one doesn’t feel like Linklater at all.

Cate Blanchett, usually brilliant, is a little bit all over the place – although it’s hard to say if this is her fault or the fault of the script. Over-the-top and cartoonish throughout, this performance is ridiculously hammy and almost pantomime levels of bizarre, a choice which doesn’t give anybody or anything else in the film very much room to breathe. A shame really, as this is the first Linklater to feature a solo female lead – and it’s trash.

While the novel skewered the norms of family, motherhood and suburban life, the film shits all over the novel with a downright bizarre adaptation in which absolutely nothing works. It’s actually quite shocking just how bad this is when you consider the immense talent of the cast and director and the fact you have such a great book as a source. Where’d You Go Bernadette is all over the place and a masterclass in how not to adapt a book, removing all that was good and taking easy roads to settle for weepy family schmaltz.

The film is one huge misfire from beginning to end, poorly edited, bizarrely performed and dreadfully structured. When the film reached its conclusion – or rather, reached several conclusions to the many films that seem to have been squashed into this over-stuffed mess – the pay-off was so lacking that my initial response was just “…ok”. I wasn’t angry or disappointed initially, nor was I happy. I think I was just tired and relieved that it was over. Looking back, I notice the untapped potential of a cinematic adaptation of the novel. The story of a seemingly happy woman losing her self-worth is intriguing but packaged this poorly by Richard Linklater it totally misses the mark. There’s, sadly, nothing to recommend here. It seems like every choice the cast and crew made was the wrong one, resulting in an absolute shit-show of a movie. One to avoid, even for Linklater’s most ardent fans. 

Sam Love

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