Updated: Dec 15, 2019
Some movies are able to succeed on the backs of the star carrying them in the lead role. It’s a testament to their skill and work ethic that they can make a movie rise above factors such as a problematic story line, or misguided directing effort. Cate Blanchett is one such figure and is at the center of everything in Where’d You Go, Bernadette. She brings her usual talents to the screen with another great performance, but it isn’t enough to save the movie in what amounts to a mildly intriguing character study.
The story follows Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett), a former Los Angeles architect who has walked away from her career to move to Seattle and focus on her family. Her husband, Elgie (Billy Crudup), is a spokesman for a tech company, while her daughter, Bee (Emma Nelson), is preparing to attend boarding school next year. Her life now consists of working on projects at home, spending time with her daughter, and arguing with her next-door neighbor, Audrey (Kristen Wiig). One day Bernadette vanishes, leaving her family to attempt to figure out where she’s disappeared to and why.
The highlight of Where’d You Go, Bernadette is the leading performance of Cate Blanchett. She creates something unique in the character of Bernadette Fox, commanding the spotlight throughout with her layered portrayal of a flawed figure. Serving as the guide of this adventure, the audience follows her and learns what makes her tick. The movie is at its best when focusing on Bernadette’s relationship to her work, as well as her daughter. Emma Nelson shines here in her first feature film performance, providing Bee with the perfect blend of childlike passion and intellectual maturity. She plays off Blanchett well to produce some wonderful chemistry.
The performances work hard to compensate for an overly messy screenplay that is the film’s most glaring weakness. This overpacked story was in need of serious editing. There are subplots that could have been removed entirely in lieu of continued focus on the central story line and the movie wouldn’t have missed a beat. The abrupt shifts taken in the story result in an uneven tone, meshing together attempts at mystery, comedy and drama with mixed results. The husband is also a poorly written character. His motivations and personality simply changed as the plot requires, and Crudup doesn’t provide much of a performance to help mask this problem.
Overall, Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a decent movie with some good performances. Blanchett and Nelson shine, but it isn’t enough to overlook the extraneous directions the story takes. Somewhere in this mess is a poignant character study of a lost architect trying to find herself, but those moments are sporadically interwoven in. I give it 2.5 out of 5 stars, and recommend it to super fans of Cate Blanchett and her work.