Ever since the epic career-defining artistic achievement and subsequent global acclaim of 2014’s Boyhood, Richard Linklater has struggled somewhat to launch his second act. It hasn’t been for lack of trying, however, with the director dropping new films as prolifically as he ever has. First came the half-baked Dazed and Confused redo, Everybody Wants Some!!, followed by the glumly forgettable Last Flag Flying, a sorta-sequel to Hal Ashby’s classic The Last Detail. Now he jumps into the world of the breezy airport paperback, with an adaptation of Maria Semple’s runaway bestseller, Where’d You Go, Bernadette. But with each new movie Richard Linklater cranks out these days, the less Richard Linklater those movies seem to be.
Cate Blanchett plays the titular Bernadette, a reclusive and misanthropic woman living in Seattle with her computer genius husband, Elgin (Billy Crudup), and precocious teenage daughter, Bee (newcomer Emma Nelson). Bernadette used to be a star in the Los Angeles architectural world, winning a MacArthur Grant and the admiration of her peers for her unique and experimental takes on building design. But a professional setback sent her fleeing everything she knew and resigned to spend her days terrorizing the local suburban moms in her new neighbourhood in a pharmaceutical-drug-induced haze. Once her daughter excitedly proposes a family trip to Antarctica, Bernadette fully goes over the edge, eventually disappearing completely when confronted about her erratic behaviour. While Elgin and Bee desperately try to figure out where she’s gone, Bernadette learns to reconnect with the person she really is.
For a movie that contains a disappearance, substance abuse, and even a bizarre subplot about the FBI investigating a Russian money scamming ring that’s out to defraud Bernadette and her family, Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a surprising low-stress affair, containing no real stakes or tension throughout the entirety of the run time. Instead, the film is played for whimsical comedy, complete with stale gags, treacly musical cues and incessant cringe worthy narration from Bee. To be fair, this seems to be what the tone of the book was, but even some of the more complex elements of the original narrative, like an affair between Elgin and his new office assistant, have been excised here completely.
Linklater has also never been the most high energy filmmaker but the subtle emotional and intellectual insights that he’s so perfect at probing are completely absent here, leaving not a single trace of distinctive authorial voice from the man who was at the forefront of the American independent film movement. And while there’s no doubt that Cate Blanchett is one of the finest actresses of our time, her performance here isn’t one for the books, flailing desperately to give Bernadette some kind of recognizable humanity but ultimately just coming off as intensely irritating. It’s hard to shake the fact that the whole story is really just a rich white people fantasy anyway.
Where’d you go, Richard?
- Rated: PG-13
- Genre: Comedy, Drama
- Release Date: 8/16/2019
- Directed by: Richard Linklater
- Starring: Billy Crudup, Cate Blanchett, Emma Nelson, James Urbaniak, Judy Greer, Kristen Wiig, Laurence Fishburne, Megan Mullallly, Steve Zahn, Zoe Chao
- Written by: Holly Gent, Richard Linklater, Vincent Palmo Jr.