On the one hand, you do not generally cast a movie legend like Blanchett and then only use her in the final few frames. It is understandable that Linklater wanted to give his star as much to do as possible. But by delaying her disappearance, the film loses its mystery. Instead, audiences spend the entire first hour watching Blanchett swan around being eccentric and irritating her neighbors, which gets old fast.
In films like these, it can sometimes be hard to know if the actors realize they’ve boarded a slowly sinking ship. Crudup, for one, looks dazed by the time the film reaches Antarctica. Blanchett, who seems to recognize early on the movie’s fatal storytelling flaw, is left to carry the film. That the first half is watchable is entirely on her and Nelson, who spends most of her time looking as if she’s stumbled into the greatest acting masterclass imaginable. (Only Kristen Wiig, who plays Bernadette’s neighbor-nemesis Audrey, throws herself into the film with gusto from start to finish.)`
The film does improve once it arrives in Antarctica, as Blanchett’s frenetic first half energy calms down. (Though the ice floes and penguins may have as much to do with that as anything else; It’s hard to expend that much energy in the cold.) The Antarctica portion is also when the film finally gets to its contextual point — that Bernadette is not a kook, for all the time the film spends making her seem like one. She’s just a genius in need of a project, and it turns out the South Pole is where she finds it.
Perhaps the problem was that Linklater, with his penchant for simple emotional films like “Boyhood” and the “Before” trilogy, was just the wrong man for the job. Perhaps a novel like this was too big a reach to translate in another medium. Whatever the case, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” looked like a winner on paper. Too bad not even Blanchett could build it into something great.
Richard Linklater’s latest movie, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, has opened to surprisingly mixed reviews. Linklater has always been a tough director to nail down. It’s often a shock to remember that the guy who directed Slacker also made A Scanner Darkly, School of Rock, and the Before trilogy. His 20th film, released this week, is an adaptation of Maria Semple’s 2012 novel, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? On the surface, Linklater feels like a good fit for this story of a brilliant but troubled architect whose neuroses and sudden disappearance leave her family, friends, and foes baffled. It also helps to have a great cast, with Cate Blanchett in the lead and supported by Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig, Judy Greer, and Laurence Fishburne.