Cate Blanchett is a force to be reckoned with under any circumstances. Put her in a film based on a best-selling novel helmed by Oscar nominated director Richard Linklater and you’d think you were onto a winner. But according to Rotten Tomatoes, this film misses the mark, and while I agree it does stumble around at the start, it finds the right gear and delivers a tear-jerking finish.
Bernadette (Blanchett) is a stylish mother and best friend to her teenage daughter Bee (Emma Nelson), and at first appearances seems to be in a happy marriage with Elgi (Billy Crudup), a tech genius with a successful career in Seattle. But we get a sense of inner turmoil, with Bernadette quick to spar with her neighbour Audrey (Kristen Wiig) over plans to tame blackberries that have invaded Audrey’s home.
It is evident Bernadette is somewhat overwhelmed by life, she can’t quite cope with other people, and has growing anxiety about an upcoming trip to Antarctica with Bee and Elgie. Her home also has blackberries invading, literally under the carpet, and this is just one of many obvious issues in her huge dilapidated dwelling. The only “person” Bernadette feels comfortable confiding in is a virtual assistant she dictates notes to, ordering parcels and medication online.
10 minutes into the film it is obvious Bernadette is experiencing some form of mania, but it takes most of the run time to reveal the source of her tumultuous behaviour. In a random encounter with a young woman it emerges Bernadette is a celebrated architect who has stopped creating, and this is one of the key thrusts of the film, as we slowly unravel what made her so wound up.
Blanchett’s portrayal of this manic energy brings to mind her incredible performance in Blue Jasmine and it can be a lot to process, as her mania is almost always dialled up to 11.
Without spoiling key plot points, Bernadette’s frenzied behaviour escalates to an extreme level and she goes missing. It is how her daughter and husband respond that allows the film to move into a place of empathy and we finally understand what makes Bernadette tick. It can be a bit of a harrowing journey to get there, so I do get that this could all be a bit much for some.
For my wife and I, Where’d You Go Bernadette offered an intriguing story with lots of humour and heart that finally paid off in the end.
3 & ½ Stars “Blanchett is a Force to be Reckoned With”