Director Richard Linklater is the king of small town quirk. He has the knack for revealing characters through their conversation showing their charisma and idiosyncrasies. Linklater is especially adept at focusing on adolescence and the perils of the young adult.
This makes his new film “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” an underwhelming experience despite the solid acting of Cate Blanchett.
The story focuses on a mentally troubled architect, Bernadette Fox, and her family life. But instead of taking his time as Linklater usually does, he opts for a silly tone and easy clichés which makes the film feel staid in the mode of a TV movie.
Bernadette (Blanchett) has deep anxiety. Despite this, she promises her daughter Bee (Emma Nelson) a trip to Antarctica during Winter break. Though she adores Bee, she frets about going. She hordes medication and makes faces, speaking into her iPhone constantly. Her husband (Billy Crudup) has the personality of a piece of plastic. Bernadette spends her time dismantling the carpet and planting vines inside the house.
Kristen Wiig plays an uptight WASP who is outraged by Bernadette’s curmudgeonly behavior. Wiig scowls and stumbles, employing a bit role right out of SNL.
Bernadette worries and winces. She has no intention of going and then she does. Bernadette gets intoxicated and sleeps on an office sofa in her parka.
The only relationship of interest is Bee’s love for her mother. These exchanges have some heart. If the film had strictly focused on mother and daughter, it would have been more successful. Instead, we have Kristin Wiig running around, peering behind curtains while Bernadette’s husband reacts to everything as if he has indigestion.
Bernadette goes here and there trying to make small talk and small jokes but there is no pathos or intrigue. Everything is low key with little fun or humor. Billy Crudup is either monotone or snide as a software pioneer and it is a mystery to me that he ever had any love for Bernadette at all.
Father and daughter follow a winking wayward mom to world’s end but the pacing is in a sluggish second gear. The cold fish husband is moved to tears and the resolution is as tranquil and complacent as a Hallmark card.
The problem with “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” is that it is neither madcap (as the material suggests) or serious, but merely flat. The normally meticulous and provocative director has opted for the slapstick with Blanchett ripping a floor apart and a house filling with cascades of mud.
Linklater, a master of microscopic relationships usually directs with such care, but for those looking for a classic from the Texan auteur, this is a misfire.
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