[Review] ‘WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE’ – woman on the verge of enlightenment

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James Clay// Film Critic

WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE

Rated PG-13, 130 minutes.
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Cate Blanchette, Billy Crudup, Kristin Wiig, Emma Nelson, Laurence Fishburne

Filmmaker Richard Linklater (BOYHOOD) is nothing short of a modern-day philosopher. Every one of his films has little pockets of wisdom to unpack about humanity, love, and finding joy in the small moments. In interviews, Linklater is always calm, composed, and confident; it certainly makes sense how he’s the filmmaker who birthed the modern hangout film. His latest WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE — based on Maria Semple’s novel of the same name — trails a character who has lost her sense of self and could be on the verge of a breakdown. The approach is sensitive, funny and diffuses the stigma that shames so many people who are coping with an invisible illness. Teaming up with Cate Blanchett — who gives one of her career-best if not defining performances — and screenwriters Holly Gent/Vince Palmo (ME & ORSEN WELLES) the quartet are on a quest for enlightenment in the modern age. 

Bernadette Fox (Blanchett) is a celebrated architect whose career has gone dark for 20 years. She’s been spiraling into a pattern of agoraphobia and manic behavior that has isolated her from the public eye. We’re plopped into Bernadette’s orbit as she makes calls for innocuous tasks to her virtual assistant Manjula, provokes her neighbor Audrey (Kristen Wiig) and is miserable anytime she is forced to leave the house. She’s become a mystery to anybody and everybody including her loved ones. Her husband Elgie (the underrated Billy Crudup) and daughter Bee (an excellent Emma Nelson) have grown concerned and are in the process of staging an intervention, and suddenly…she disappears.

Cate Blanchette and Emma Nelson in WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE (photo courtesy of Annapurna Pictures)

This is a portrait of a creative who has lost her way; perhaps she’s destroying her life in order to create something new, which isn’t exactly the healthiest approach. Bernadette may be shunned her peers, but the filmmakers who have given her a voice don’t pass judgment. The mania once drove  Bernadette to the brink of genius and now is preventing her from entering the next stage of her life. 

Watching Bernadette spiral felt personal to me. I suffer from daily, at times, severe anxiety that can control my day to day life. If left unchecked, it can be crippling, or as Bernadette says, “soul-sucking.” Blanchette’s attentive portrayal of Bernadette perfectly articulates the weaknesses and surprising strengths of living with anxiety. I found myself connecting to her in ways I never thought I’d be able to experience. From sleepless nights of worrying about everyday things like if she’s providing her daughter with enough daily food intake, to the annoyance of ordering a cup of coffee. For a film filled with comedy, I was in tears on multiple occasions. At its core WHERE’D, YOU GO, BERNADETTE isn’t a film about mental illness it’s about creating and finding meaning in that pursuit while balancing a family. The year is 2019; we can and will have it all. 

Countless times we see films about celebrating artists in almost egotistical fashion, this is a film void of ego. The idea of creatives forcing themselves to breakdown their process, burn it to the ground and start from scratch is scary and if you look deeper this is just an everyday human on the search for self-discovery. 

WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is about letting go, communicating your needs with love and finding a balance. Buckle up for a transformative Blanchette performance as she leads an incredible ensemble of actors that are ambitious enough to spar in scenes with an actor who’s firing as a true force of nature. Linklater is one of the top tier filmmakers working today, his films may not be as sexy as his Gen-X peers like Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, or Paul Thomas Anderson, but he’s a filmmaker who listens and that makes all the difference. 

Grade: B+

WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE opens Nationwide August 16th.