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Review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette

by Murtada Elfadl

What if that one thing that you cared about and that you built your life’s work around was gutted away from you violently? Can you recover? How do you cope in the days and years that follow? These are some of the questions that Richard Linklater is trying to answer with his adaptation of the Maria Semple novel, Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Bernadette (Cate Blanchett) is a harried mom (to Emma Nelson’s 15 year old Bee) and wife (to Billy Crudup’s Elgie) in Seattle. She spends her days in her big semi-rundown house trying to manage the small details of her family’s life, but mostly running away from facing the minutiae and drudgery of those tasks by composing long email and text messages to her virtual assistant Manjula. But Bernadette’s life wasn’t always so banal and she wasn’t in perpetual war with everyone she meets (Kristin Wiig plays her nemesis and next door neighbor). She used to be a genius architect with lots of promise until she suffered a major career setback that she couldn’t recover from. 

If you are a fan of the novel you might not recognize what you liked about it from this adaptation...

Linklater smoothes over the singular and quirky tone of the novel. He’s more interested in the kernel of the ideas in the novel but not the whole. When the movie is following Bernadette’s professional heartbreak and its ramifications and how that affected her life, it’s stirring and heartfelt. However these central ideas get bogged down in the plot machinations of the Semple novel. The tension between the adaptation and the novel ultimately doesn't enhance the movie, and Semple’s social satire and comedy of manners among the Seattle private school mother set goes missing and never found, unlike Bernadette. Suffering most from this dissonance is Wiig's Audrey, I wish we got to see her sparr more with Bernadette.

What the adaptation opens up is Bernadette and Elgie’s marriage, exploring how a spouse can lose their partner and not afford them the support they need despite love and shared experiences. No wonder Bernadette runs away. Also affecting is the mother daughter relationship, and Blanchett and Nelson etch out a credible loving relationship. Watch them belt out Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’ in an impromptu car karaoke session and see if you can keep your eyes from watering.

Blanchett remains best when playing unravelling women, however this is not a companion performance to her signature Oscar winning role in Blue Jasmine (2013) but rather I found myself thinking of another of her creations. The bored housewife who chooses to be kidnapped by bank robbers rather than continue filling her days with housework, in Bandits (2001). Bernadette is just as trapped as Kate Wheeler was and Blanchett manages to imbue her with the right chaotic temperenant to convey a woman confined by psychological trappings she can't begin to face, let alone conquer. She’s always been a master of gestural acting and here she plays up her facial expressions and gives her body movement a fussy restless energy to show us how Bernadette is longing for more.

The first half of the film is tighter and funnier. Linklater spends the second half trying to tie together the unruly plot and in the process diffuses the sharp edges of his protagonist. Despite that he manages to make Bernadette a profoundly touching experience in telling the story of a woman trying to find if there’s a second act to her life despite debilitating trauma. And who among us can't relate to that? B

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Reader Comments (63)

Unfortunate. This is an epic disaster for Cate Blanchett.

August 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMargot

@margot Would love to hear why you think this movie is an epic disaster for Cate.

August 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGoodbar

Because it's a $20m movie that could not even gross $4m. Plus she is the lead, which a movie studio will never bankroll for her again.

August 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMargot

Where'd You Go, Bernadette is an odd movie that was unmarketable which explains the continuous date changes for its release. I ended up enjoying it despite not being able to recommend to anyone who isn't either a fan of the director or Cate Blanchett. Cate's performance and character is really strange throughout the early half of the movie. I was beginning to think she's incapable of playing ordinary people without being highly affected. There's plenty of Jasmine in an Anjelica Huston raven-colored bob wig in this movie.

August 18, 2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

I recall people saying the same thing about Truth....

The budget wasn't approved because of Blanchett's star power. The budget was approved because Annapurna thought that it was an Oscar-friendly prospect and could make the money back once it got nominations.

I think Murtada's review is good. It wasn't a great movie, but it was definitely better than most reviews indicate - an enjoyable way to spend a weekend afternoon.

August 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

I don’t know. I feel that Cate is over. They announced that Lucy movie four years ago and it hasn’t even started. She has no projects lined up. I don’t think people find her real or relatable.

August 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterForbes

If I were advising her, I would suggest she play a character with some kind of warmth (if able). She tends to go for these kinds of eccentric, mannered parts that don't draw audiences. I found Ocean's 8 unwatchable, largely because of her and Sandra Bullock. When the New Yorker compared her performance here to Hepburn, I thought, how unfortunate for both of them.

August 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJono

I feel like Blanchett has plateaued, but plateaued at a very high level. So you feel chagrin and ingratitude when you see one of your favorite actors working at a very high level, and you think, oh I’ve seen this before.

I think she needs to do something different with her body movement, something slinky and sexy and stylized. I think she should be in a revival with Bob Fosse choreography and spend months learning to dance that way. She’s a hard worker, she could do it.

I can understand wanting to be a serious actress rather than a sexpot, and Blanchett has succeeded brilliantly that way from the beginning. But as Jessica Lange reflected, Lange wished she had done more of the sexy roles that were offered to her when she was younger. Maybe it’s time for Blanchett to look like a sexy Bebe Neuwirth.

August 18, 2019 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Yes. At 50, she needs to reinvent herself. 50 is the new 40. Clearly the studio is putting her out there as the only reason to see the movie (look at the poster) and this failed. Maybe a limited series where she is not the lead but it's a great part would help. Also, and I don't know if this comes into play, but she is very headstrong and not American, so i wonder if her road is limited for those reasons in Hollywood.

August 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJane

Adri: I seriously can not think Cate being sexy

August 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMeryl Streep

Maybe she is bound for the theatre. I have found her off for a long time. Anna Torv has a great part in Mindhunter and that is more of the kind of work that Cate should be doing on film or TV. Not these kinds of roles that she can't pull off. I forgot she was doing Lucy, but I can actually say that I know exactly what she would do with that role and i hope it's never made.

August 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTom Ford

Cate is playing Phyllis Schlafy for FX in a limited mimicry series. That comes out in 2020. She already has made the switch to TV.

August 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCAA

Cate Blanchett is the best actress working today. She lends style and grace to everything she does. Bernadette was a terrific movie. Yes, she loves roles that are off-beat and quirky. Someone with her talent, intellect, and exquisite beauty is and will always be in demand. She has a huge fanbase.

August 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLana Renetzkyy

I can't believe all the silly comments about Cate Blanchett being "over". Listen closely. Cate will NEVER be over. Any director would kill to have her in his/her movie.

August 18, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterken s

Hmmm I trust you Morty, but Ive been hearing all kinds of things about how bad the Blanchett is in this movie :(. Gaaah. Gotta watch for myself.

August 18, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterkris01

She was actually better in the movie than what I expected from the trailer. It's not saying much, but there it is. This... was a bit of a miss for me. I love Linklater and Blanchett and so I thought this was going to be a slam dunk, but it sort of just meandered in a meaningless sort of way? It did make me want to go to Antarctica.

August 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

LOL Lana. Thanks for the laughs 😂

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMargot

C'mon, Cate is one of the best actresses working today. Isn't it realistic that every actress will have her own turkeys? We can't expect everything she touches to be box office hits or Oscar materials...but I do hope she does something more down to earth or maybe a musical or flat-out comedy. That will be interesting to watch.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJans

Not sure how this became a "Cate Blanchett's career is in jeopardy" thread, but yeah, that's silly. She is the closest thing we have to Meryl Streep, i.e. a name that signify prestige and great acting. A few poorly reviewed misfires isn't going to change that.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterkin

Love the shout-out to bandits, Murtada! She's such a hoot in this role, and I'm excited to see what she does with Bernadette, despite the film sounding pretty uneven (once it gets a UK release, it doesn't look to have been set yet...).

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterben1283

I think this move was always going to be disappointing. Linklater is not the most natural choice for director/writer, the release was delayed multiple times and Annapurna does not really have a great track record.

But the box office disappointment does not mean that Blanchett's carrer is over. She always had misfires (Charlotte Gray, The Missing, The Good German), like basically any other actress of her caliber. She's still 'prestige', is going to kill it in the FX miniseries and will play another great movie part again, if she's interested in movies.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterpawel

nice novel. I love your blog. thanks for sharing it.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterA2 Hosting Coupon

Let's be honest....Nicole Kidman was always the far superior Aussie actress. Blanchett is good, but she's all technical tricks. Once you've seen all those tricks, there's nowhere left to go. Blanchett's theatricality on film keeps getting more pronounced on film.

It's interesting that some people are only realising this now. It's been a major problem with Blanchett for many years now. She got talent, but she has always been horribly overrated.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterfilipe

I feel like people are projecting way to much onto Blanchett right now. This is a relatively small movie that was not greenlit due to her participation. She only just recently had Carol and Truth and a tony nomination. She has never been box office outside of the franchises She hasn't had a major movie other than Ocean's 8 which, despite what the commentators are saying, made money and was generally well received, if not a huge hit.

Kind of baffled how one movie no one really cared about anyway will damage her. She has theatre and australian film to fall back on, and all of her recent successes were either independent movies or adjacent. So it seems like business as usual for me.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Blanchett has a hit a slump for me after Carol a bit like Winslet after The Reader,none of her films since then i've bothered with,she faded into the background in Ocean's 8 which I only watched 45 mins off cos everyone was awful in it.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Like some here, I’m mystified as to how this movie, which will fade quickly, spells the end for Cate Blanchett’s career as a leading lady. It’s clear that she’s still enormously respected in the industry AND that she will still be getting roles wherever she wants, whether it’s TV, theatre, or movies. Just because one project (Lucy) hasn’t progressed doesn’t mean that the Queen is dead.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

Markgordounuk, she has been in thor and ocean's 8. How is that is a slump, it's two movies which were successful in one way or another, one of which she had a supporting role in.

Kevin- it's because people will rip actresses anytime they have a failure and it's also because the internet has made it impossible to look at a movie without creating some sort of narrative.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

IMHO people want better for her. The last time I thought she was good was Cinderella.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTroy

the haters are hilarious

Blanchett does a movie which garners pedestrian reviews (51/100 on Metacritic), the opening weekend is 3.5 million, and the haters are like "she's over"; if you don't like her, just say that, but y'all are being delusional right now.

Honestly, have a cup of tea, sit down and think about what you're saying. If Cate Blanchett is over then Nicole Kidman, Tilda Swinton and Julianne Moore (AKA the other great actresses of her generation) need to commit suicide.

The last Moore lead (Gloria Bell) made 5.6 million at the US Box Office. Yes. it got better reviews but I've already forgotten about it. Oscar 2020 has already forgotten about it. And really, it only made 5.6 million.

WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE will probably hit the 10 million mark domestically.

The last Nicole Kidman sort of centrepiece lead movie to gross more than 10 million domestically was... Australia (2008). Are you haters honestly trying to tell me Kidman has been "over" since then?

Tilda Swinton goes even more indie and she's clearly not over.

The great directors want to work with these actresses. Their movies are seen by the right people and with the help of critical acclaim they earn Oscar nods. And often enough we love them, don't we?

The great directors want to work with Cate Blanchett especially. Her collection of top directors outshines Tilda, Julianne and Nicole's collections. Blanchett now has Linklater as well, not a well-reviewed movie, okay, but she has him on her CV.

And remember, Cate puts on an iconic performance in Todd Haynes' best reviewed film. She puts on an iconic performance in Woody Allen's best reviewed drama since Hannah and Her Sisters (which is not exactly a drama to be fair). You have to be a dumb pile of human waste not to acknowledge the fact that this guarantees you work with other greats.

She's guaranteed to keep working with some of the best auteurs out there.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

@Peter "Precisely my point"

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

It's hard for me to take a person's opinion seriously if they use the word haters to describe another person's opinion,it doesn't allow for much discussion to all nod our heads in agreement,i've enjoyed reading what others must've been thinking.

Many feel strongly about Cate circa 2013 - 2015 Carol and Blue Jasmine,2nd Oscar etc and since then she has less than wowed some but not all as it appears from the comments

Anyone who thinks she's delivering stellar work in Thor or The house with a Clock in it's Walls or Oceans8 I can't help them with that cos I couldn't get through those movies.

I don' think she's over or overrated just needs a better project for her talents.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

The great directors want to work with Cate Blanchett especially. Her collection of top directors outshines Tilda, Julianne and Nicole's collections. Blanchett now has Linklater as well, not a well-reviewed movie, okay, but she has him on her CV.

Kidman has Kubrick and Swinton is more avant-garde with her collaborator choices than the rest combined.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

markgordonuk-I just don't see how that is your point. Those movies were successful, they were standard box office stuff that were neither here nor there. Blanchett has kids and has only fairly recently come off a string of successes (Truth she got raves for even though the movie didn't take off). Most actors make movies like those after heavy duty stuff. i just don't see how that's at all representative of some sort of slump or decline. She's probably putting other more interesting projects together and taking side jobs.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Yavor-HIGHLY debatable regarding your directors comment. Blanchett has more A-listers MAYBE, but Moore, Swinton, and Kidman have been consistently far more adventurous. They've worked with Indie Directors, Foreign directors, first timers, and women. Blanchett has certainly worked with greats but almost always after they've been established for years and usually in movies that have pretty mainstream selling points

This isn't to knock Blanchett, as everyone seemingly wants to do here without any actual evidence to back that up, only to say that there's nothing on her CV that matches up to the most adventurous stuff Moore, Swinton, and Kidman have basically spent their entire careers adding to their resume. In fact, Kidman's more aggressive foray into Hollywood far was arguably the period when most people were writing her off. Since 2010 she's mostly been doing movies that wouldn't be made without her. None of Blanchett's films were sold on her name or were put together

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

I have no interest in this film, but this thread's negativity is not the way I wanted to start my week. Wow...

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterzig


a great director is a great director, regardless of whether he's male, female or intersex, an American or Italian; established or emerging; mostly indie or mostly box office / oscar-friendly

Blanchett quite literally has more of these next to her name compared to Moore, Swinton or Kidman.

I agree it's debatable how we measure "great".

I'm not a huge fan of Spielberg but consider him a great director.
A lot of Scorsese movies are annoying to me, but I consider him a great director.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

those who saw the movie... any comments on my review? agree / disagree?

August 19, 2019 | Registered CommenterMurtada Elfadl

For someone reason I can't think of anyone Julianne Moore has worked with aside from Paul Thomas Anderson. He definitely needs Kidman, Blanchett, or Swinton in one of his movies asap.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

/3rtful. Moore has Todd Haynes, Altman, Speilberg, Van Sant, Scott, Innaurato, the Coen brothers, Cholodenko, Cronenberg, Malle, Jordan, Ford just to name a few. Not saying all these movies were successful, but most of the directors above actively sought her out and cast her.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

“You’re a worse actor than Cate Blanchett.”

“What!? She’s great.”

“Is she? Or is she just tall?”

Titus Andromedon, 2016.

I kid. She is great and she’ll be fine.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMikeyC

I believe Blanchett herself said that after the Carol awards season, she wanted to break off and try different things for awhile. There was also a comment from her about not wanting to feel like people were placing their own award hopes onto her, which I felt was directed at The Weinstein Co at the time. Whatever the case, I think perhaps she wanted to go have some fun with things like Thor, O8 and House with a Clock. It doesn't hurt to be in front of a potential large general audience occasionally, especially as an actress in the 50+ age range. There was really no pressure with those films and she was able to partly develop two TV shows during that time and do two stage runs as well. As for the person who said she has nothing lined up, that is false. She has the two series - one completed, one currently filming and is also being tapped for the next Guillermo del Toro film. The Lucille Ball project seemed pushed back due to Sorkin mainly last time I checked. I don't think a film like Bernadette signals the end for her, she seems to be in demand still. I know when someone racks up seven Oscar nominations with 15 years, people expect a lot ... but it's just not always constantly sustainable. I bet most directors would still trip over themselves to land her.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDLTT

DLTT- THANK YOU! That was what I wanted to say but you said it much more succinctly.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Ha. No one has seen the movie but has plenty to say. That is a tribute to Cate and very high expectations, I suppose. But it's a difficult road for any actor in their 40's or 50's. And it's a phenomenon where some woman have a good run and then they have to transition to TV or theatre. For Cate, I think she needs to stop mimicry.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterReese

I can’t. I just can’t with this exaggeration that Cate’s career is done because this film has underperformed. Seriously. She has never been considered a box-office draw, so from where is this “her career is over” coming from? She will continue making movies and those movies will either be brilliant or a dud. Just like many brilliant actresses who churn out brilliant performances, but are never known to attract people to line up at the box-office.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGoodbar

Oh God, I hope when I’m older I’m happier than the people in this theead.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbeyaccount

I agree it's better to have low expectations for Cate. In other words, she and the movie she is in are likely to be bad. This has been borne out time and time again.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterQT


Not all the great directors want to work with Blanchett. Quentin Tarantino was famously dismissive of Blanchett's choice of roles and movies

Blanchett has worked with a lot of big directors, but I'd take Kidman's resume of directors any day of the week. It's much more eclectic. Kubrick, Von Trier, Andrea Arnold, Campion, Amenebar, Herzog, Sofia Coppola, Karyn Kusma, Glazer, Lurhmann, Baumbach, John Cameron Mitchell, Lanthimos, Chan Wook Park, Daldry, Van Sant .

I'd rather Kidman not play a silly role in the worst Indiana Jones movie just so she can tick Spielberg off her checklist. Kidman's filmography is far better and of more substance than Blanchett's because she doesn't just tick the biggest name directors off her list. Blanchett has managed to make 6 movies with Peter Jackson, and none of them will be remembered for her or her performance. Just making a movie to be in a guaranteed hit and have a star filmmaker on your ledger isn't enough.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterChloe

Oh, wow. So much to clean up here. Blanchett has never been a huge, bankable star. People act like she used to be Eddie Murphy and PLUTO NASH just opened. She's a highly respected actor who will work in roles for both Marvel-type studios (Everyone loved her in THOR) and for auteurs like Linklater and Allen.This is because great directors love her work. She was never going to get an action franchise built around her. Nobody hires her to protect their 100 million investment. Nobody ever did. Delete your accounts!

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDaniella Isaacs

@ Chloe, this is hilarious

Stephen Colbert (a total LOTR nerd) literally interviewed her last week and said "there were many great performances in LOTR but there were two PERFECT performances, Ian Mckellen as Gandalf and you as Galadriel"

people rarely remember certain movies for a certain actor, in my case The Fellowship of the Ring is truly unforgettable when Arwen summons the water horses, Saruman brings down the mountain, Balrog, and everything Galadriel. The character is that iconic, so much so, for non-movie goers she is often Galadriel. Therefore, your "Blanchett has managed to make 6 movies with Peter Jackson, and none of them will be remembered for her or her performance." is quite literally stupid

Also, under the old system of 5 Best Pictures nominees, Cate Blanchett appears in 7 (SEVEN) movies that have been nominated for Best Picture. That actually matters, you know, and subjective or not, is a good measure of an actor's career, viability, and whether or not they're in demand.

Blanchett has collected:

Woody Allen
Martin Scorsese
Steven Spielberg
David Fincher
Ridley Scott
Peter Jackson
Terrence Malick
Alejandro González Iñárritu
Steven Soderbergh
Wes Anderson
Richard Linklater
Anthony Minghella
Jim Jarmusch
Todd Haynes
Sam Raimi
Joe Wright
Taika Waititi
Edgar Wright
Ron Howard
Kenneth Branagh
George Clooney

When Blanchett teams up with an indie, non-conventional, supposedly non-Oscar director, the results are pretty impressive, wouldn't you agree?

She's extraordinary in Coffee & Cigarettes
Legendary in I'm not There and Carol
Absolutely shines, and really surprised me acting-wise in Knight of Cups
Loved her in Manifesto
Hilarious in Hot Fuzz behind a mask

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

Good grief. Who cares what directors she has "collected." Her movies stink.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterQT

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