by Rob DiCristino
Richard Linklater’s latest film is one of his glossier efforts, a well-staged family comedy with a Sundance edge. Based on the 2012 novel by Maria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette stars Cate Blanchett as Bernadette Fox, an architecture prodigy-turned-Seattle homemaker whose prickly demeanor and chaotic agoraphobia have alienated her from other neighborhood moms (namely Kristen Wiig as PTA booster Audrey) and created tension with her tech genius husband, Elgie (Billy Crudup). The temperamental Bernadette’s closest ally is her daughter, Bee (Emma Nelson, spectacular in her first major film role). Bee’s a good egg — smart, intuitive, and sympathetic to her mother’s eccentricities. As Bernadette bounces restlessly between prescription medications and drifts further and further from reality, Bee resolves to help her mother find new purpose in her future by confronting the greatest failures of her past.
No matter how you spin it, Where’d You Go, Bernadette is Cate Blanchett’s show. Linklater gives his star all the room she needs to make sense of Bernadette’s compulsions, to let us see the interior logic in what others see as madness. A large part of Blanchett’s dialogue is with the voice dictation on her iPhone — emailing Amazon orders and day-to-day frustrations to her virtual assistant — which allows her the comfort of isolation and contrasts nicely with Elgie’s development of Samantha 2, a super-computer in patch form that can literally read minds. The irony being, of course, that he can’t read that of his own wife. Crudup plays the Well-Meaning But Obtuse Husband part well; his variety of pouty faces are world-class. Blanchett is in irascible Blue Jasmine mode, for the most part, but her revealing conversation with an old architecture colleague (Laurence Fishburne) and her stolen moments of joy with Bee (a duet to Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” stands out) betray significant cracks in her emotional walls.