Chew's Reviews - Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

By Gary Chew | 

Opens tomorrow | 

The world seems perfect in the mind of Bernadette Fox. She's affluent, with a successful, tech-savvy husband and glowingly smart and sweet early-teen daughter. Bernadette is creative. Once a budding and noted architect, she's now become an inventive living/working-space designer who appears to be having that laissez-faire USA life “we” all live. Just how much better can it get for the Branch and Fox tribe of Seattle?

Well, a whole lot more in Bernadette's busy and frantic thoughts. It's not totally defined what makes her so erratic; other than, for me, being mostly filled with herself, while I'm expected to accept she's a fabulous mother and, also, a pretty good wife. I think it might be that Bernadette's character has been officially diagnosed by an anonymous public relations firm as agoraphobic (Google it).

That this story evolved from a best-selling novel suggests the reader … or in my case … the person watching the film (directed by Richard Linklater) must find those seemingly conflicting points of her personality synchronous.

Please ... a self-absorbed parent is so not inclined to that kind of a stretch, therefore, such elasticity must be written into the pages in order that readers are more inclined to buy the book. I'm not saying that is the reason; I just sort of throw that out for your consideration.

Having the superb Cate Blanchett doing Bernadette did make it less tedious for my having to mix the “oil” with the “water” in this yarn by producer/writer Maria Semple. (Linklater and Holly Gent wrote the screenplay.) Billy Crudup lends a welcome assist as Elgie Branch, the loving, malleable husband. Nope, “Elgie” is not short for “Elegy,” although, Elgie is more than less elegiac. Emma Nelson debuts as the Branch/Fox daughter, Bee. Her character made me think of Susan Strasberg as the bespectacled Millie in that memorable mid-50's film, PICNIC. Bee is a fetching prodigy with a mind of her own, as the Foster-Grant frames weigh heavily on her cute nose. Everybody in the Bernadette movie is smart (not quite).

Familiar faces show up in supporting roles not meant to be whip savvy as the Branch/Fox folks. And sure enough, a visage of SNL fame plays Audrey (Kristen Wiig); she's Bernadette's next-door neighbor. Audrey and Bernadette are crabby with one another from over the common fence that separates their hillside properties. Not until Audrey helps Bernadette in our heroine's “escape” from the Seattle scene does a silly conciliation between them occur. That old reliable Laurence Fishburne (BLACK-ISH) is a former colleague of Bernadette's. Judy Greer (IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA;ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT) plays a psychologist Elgie brings home to mediate Bernadette's latest artistically-induced trauma/freak out. That's when Bernadette vanishes … from out a bathroom window.

Oh, such tension (not really) ensues! Elgie and the virginal, perceptive Bee immediately hit the trail to find out where their wife/mama has gone. As if by watching this picture, can you imagine where that might be (really obvious)? WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE happens to be a 2-hour and 10-minute telegraphing of how all the chaos will (yes really) turn out.

Linklater provides some sluggish scenes and other really delightful ones. Ho-hum time comes when Cate walks alone through her character's home talking to her speech to text device. You know the drill: speaking to someone not present, but not having to bang it out on your keyboard. (Talk about isolating oneself.) Linklater rolls a high moment by for a pleasant amount of time as Bernadette and Bee motor down a freeway just wailing, in the right key, that early hit song by Cyndi Lauper we all know and love titled “Time After Time.” Doing the duet, Cate and Emma glow.

I'd like to add a couple of paragraphs about a supporting actor Linklater had the wisdom to cast in his Bernadette movie. That would be James Urbaniak. He does a cameo: an FBI agent who interrupts the flow. Agent Marcus Strang is investigating an issue regarding Bernadette's connecting emails with a fake sender out of Russia. Over time, according to the FBI, the Russian troll had purloined material from her, revealing access information to the Branch/Fox financial assets. That's a turning point for Bernadette, insofar as her family and Elgie's commissioned shrink are concerned.

I underscore this as Urbaniak is one of my long-running special actor dudes who appears in those way far off beat films that ... I must confess ... are often high on my Like List. He's regularly been cast by director Hal Hartley; most notably in that series of movies regarding an absurd and offensive slackard called Henry Fool. That name is just one of Hartley's titles for his trilogy of absolutely wild eccentric cinematic pieces that, besides HENRY FOOL, include FAY GRIM and the more recent NED RIFLE. Urbaniak, in all three films, plays a character named Simon Grim. (Really.) Two of his collaborators are the very seemingly caustic Thomas Jay Ryan (Henry Fool) and America's total queen of artsy-indie flicks, Parker Posey herself. She plays Fay Grim (Really.) I found myself losing it a bit when Agent Strang arrives to throw a switch in Linklater's plot. Agent Strang aids in making one laugh out from a place in one's sense of humor one doesn't know one has ... until that moment of bizarre mirth is felt rising in one's throat.

All this Bernadette thing is quite crowd-pleasing … and packed with fun for most of (probably) your family. The film may be nearly as successful at selling tickets as Ms. Semple's comic novel sold books, but I doubt that.

Copyright by Gary Chew © 2019. All right reserved.


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