The Slog Of Bernadette

A Rich Lady Finds Her Smile in the Antarctic

I saw the Where’d You Go, Bernadette movie. It tells the highly-relatable story of a MacArthur Genius architect married to a billionaire Seattle software developer. Bernadette, the architect, abandoned her career because of Trauma and then became a mother. She gave her daughter everything except acting lessons. Now, 20 years later, Seattle bores her and she seeks redemption and artistic fulfillment in a luxury vacation.

Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater, Holly Gent, Vince Palmo
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Emma Nelson, Kristen Wiig
Running time: 130 min


This elite fantasy resembles that of City Slickers, which begins when Billy Crystal’s wife tells him to “find his smile.” It’s the ultimate moment of Boomer cinematic noblesse oblige.  But Crystal was at the ranch within 15 minutes, and a hilarious and well-paced comedy classic ensued. In this movie, it takes Bernadette 80 minutes to get to Antarctica, and as soon as she gets there, she thrives. She never once has to struggle to rope a steer; she’s a fish in very cold water.

“I liked the Theme of the movie,” said my wife, a genius artist who sacrificed a lot to become a mother. Yes, the theme is universal. Kids take a lot out of their parents, especially their moms. But very few of those moms are as luxuriatingly rich and brilliant and beautiful as Bernadette. Director Richard Linklater tries to present her as an avatar of womanhood, but she mostly comes off as a boring symbol of Blue State privileged ennui.

Your mileage may vary on Cate Blanchett’s performance as Bernadette. She has more tics than a northwoods deer. But at least she’s shooting for the Oscar fences. You can’t say the same for most of the supporting cast, especially Billy Crudup as her handsome husband, one of the least persuasive geniuses in film history. He has as much wattage as a 20-year-old microwave, reading every line blankly, as though he’s trying to memorize the script outline. In one excruciatingly long scene, he talks with Judy Greer, playing a psychiatrist with less energy than she shows on her hotel commercials. Linklater intercuts this with a long monologue between Blanchett and Laurence Fishburne. Talk about an unfair fight. Compared with those two legendary actors, Crudup and Greer are like a couple of bland Muppets trying to learn the alphabet.

Emma Nelson turns to Billy Crudup, the wrong parent, for acting advice in Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

Bernadette is based on a 2012 novel by Maria Semple, a real hit among the bourgeois and frustrated. The book, a lightly feminist satire of Seattle snobbery and tech excess, struck a nerve in the Obama Era. In 2019, that satire falls flat and whiny, and all the book’s narrative tricks just lead to pacing problems. Kristen Wiig, as a soccer-mom outtake from Big Little Lies, almost rescues the proceedings. She has a great kitchen-table scene with Blanchett that’s far and away the most naturalistic and relatable thing in the movie. But the movie washes her away as soon as Bernadette heads off to find her smile.

In this movie, a teenager wants a pony but then wants a family trip to Antarctica. She gets what she wants because her parents are rich. Then she decides she doesn’t want to go to Choate. By using numerous facial close-ups, Linklater is trying to rook us all into believing this is a universally heartwarming scenario. The unfathomably wealthy can be heroes, he says. That is, until the peasants sack the White Palace that Bernadette, in all her quirky genius, designed.

This concludes my review of the Where’d You Go, Bernadette? movie.

I am an artist

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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