Where’d You Go Bernadette

Posted on August 14, 2019 at 5:44 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language and drug material
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Family stress and loss, reference to serious illness of a child and miscarriages
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 16, 2019
Date Released to DVD: December 2, 2019

Copyright 2019 Annapurna Pictures
The screen adaptation of Maria Semple’s charming book, Where’d You Go Bernadette is…less charming, though perfectly pleasant in a late summer comfort food kind of way. Semple, a sharp and witty writer for television (“Mad About You,” “90210,””Arrested Development”) moved from LA to Seattle and her sense of dislocation inspired the book, with a sharp take on the crunchy, self-consciously wholesome culture of the Pacific Northwest in contrast to the glossier, smugger world of Los Angeles. Note the title, a question without a question mark. And in this version, the question mark-less question is for no discernible reason, answered at the very beginning, followed by most of the film as a flashback.

Missing the epistolary format of the book, which allows us to follow much of the storyline through the characters’ voices, the sharpness is softened in Richard Linklater’s film. Cate Blanchett plays Bernadette, a devoted mother of Bee (newcomer Emma Nelson). Clinically, she might be classified as struggling with depression or anxiety or agoraphobia, but as we will learn, the behavior that is un-social and non-productive is her way of responding to devastating personal and professional loss. She does not want to talk to anyone, except maybe Bee, with whom she has an easy, natural connection. Bernadette loves her husband, Elgy (Billy Crudup), but he has a demanding job at Microsoft, the reason for their move to Seattle, and is not around much. Bernadette ran from personal and professional loss by devoting herself to Bee. But now Bee will be going away to boarding school and she has nowhere to run.

Bernadette is an architect, but her house is a mess of unfinished repairs. When she spots a bump under the carpet that turns out to be a blackberry bush sprout from beneath the house, instead of pulling it up by the roots she neatly scores the carpet to bend the corners back and staple them to the floor so the bush can keep growing. She has contempt for the moms at Bee’s school who go on about their compost heaps. She refers to them as “gnats” and she is not above some passive aggression, including allowing one to create a lot of damage.

Elgy’s new assistant there is Soo-Lin (Zoe Chao), one of the gnats, who loves to gossip about how weird Bernadette is with Audrey (Kristen Wiig), one of those “Big Little Lies”-type school moms who likes to run everything, talks about her perfect life a lot, and has very strong views on how everyone should behave.

Bee reminds her parents that they rashly promised her a wish if she got perfect grades all through middle school. Her wish is a trip to Antarctica. Bernadette wants to give Bee her dream, but for someone who can barely leave the house, it is an insurmountable challenge — until other challenges of staying home become even more insurmountable.

This is disappointingly one-dimensional work from one of the world’s most talented and versatile directors, Richard Linklater. Instead of the innovative, perceptive work we saw in “Boyhood,” the “Before” series, “School of Rock,” “Waking Life,” “Bernie,” and “Everybody Wants Some!!” “Where’d You Go Bernadette” has all the depth of the Charlene song “I’ve Never Been to Me.”

Parents should know that this film has some strong language, some mayhem, some mild peril, and some discussion of miscarriages and serious medical conditions.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Bernadette tell her family where she was going? What problems are you good at solving?

If you like this, try: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” also starring Wiig.

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