L&D had tickets in hand for the new foul-mouthed boys movie that premiered Thursday, but took a detour for an exclusive viewing of the new Richard Linklater project, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? The fact that we were the only ones in the theater perhaps does not bode well for the film’s legs. And this may well turn out to be the lowest-rated film of Linklater’s career, which has included Dazed and Confused, Slacker, the various Before offerings, and the much ballyhooed Boyhood. That sort of poisons the well for the review now, doesn’t it?
But bad by Linklater standards is still pretty good for most of what passes through the theaters, and L&D liked a lot of things here. The movie is adapted from Maria Semple’s smash literary hit of the same name (which I bought for my wife in no small part due to its spectacular — and now oft imitated — cover design) and there are a number of glimpses of why this might be a fascinating read. Whatever was going on in the novel clearly presented some challenges for Linklater, who opts to provide a considerable amount of backstory via the now familiar “character watching YouTube videos” technique.
I went into the movie cold, knowing virtually nothing about the plot or characters, and really enjoyed how it initially unfolded. The main tension in the movie is between plot, which has its moments, and character development, which has Cate Blanchett. My guess is that how you feel about Blanchett in the title role is pretty much how you will feel about the project more generally; some critics say she was brilliant and others say she was anything but. But this is our review and we agreed that she carried the movie and she makes it worth seeing.
Aside from Bernadette, there are four or five other candidates for main characters, including her techie husband (Billy Crudup), her daughter (Emma Nelson), two mothers from her daughter’s school (Kristen Wiig and Zoe Chao), and a friend from college (Laurence Fishburne). Of these, I don’t think any developed sufficiently to turn this into a great movie. I had high hopes for the daughter and she emerges as the most developed of the main characters, but we never quite get there. There were also three potential villains and I thought these story lines were poorly handled — trotted out as important, but then dealt with in a perfunctory manner. Wiig showed a lot of promise as the busybody neighbor, but the script didn’t allow this to rise above caricature.
So that leaves us with the story, which was interesting and thought provoking, but much less of a page turner as the movie hit the hour mark. It was pretty clear that the movie was headed south (literally, to Antarctica) and I found the back end of the story a little more neatly packaged than it might have been. That said, the last half hour of the film and the credits are just beautiful to watch.
A secondary tension in this movie is whether it is a comedy or not. There are more than a few laugh-out-loud moments and any number of fun moments, particularly with Laurence Fishburne in the role of the long-lost friend. But the movie almost too-quickly pivots to high drama and at one point I turned to L and said, “This isn’t funny at all.” If the movie had been more convincing, I would probably led with the mental illness angle, but it is is not and so I did not, and I will just leave it at that.
Of the many questions you are likely to be asking on your way out, “where’d she go” is probably pretty low on the list. But it is a movie that engages the viewer on many fronts and I thought it was interesting enough to clear the $6.30 bar. L was much more positive, so a fair verdict, I think, is that we are bullish on Blanchett even if we might be a little bearish on Bernadette.
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The New Yorker had other criticisms but you might want to check it out.
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