By Kelly MacConomy
ALEXANDRIA,VA- At Z Movies ends our summer season movie reviews with another film adaption of a best-selling novel. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is Maria Semple’s 2012 portrait of a woman undone. The novel and film recount the unraveling of a middle-aged wife/mother/architect who eschews the demands of domestic and maternal expectations for a more transformative journey.
Bernadette Fox, wonderfully cast with Academy Award-winner Cate Blanchett, is a gifted (MacArthur Fellow “genius” awardee), is a once-famous, reclusive architect now transplanted from LA to Seattle. It’s ground zero for the Microsoft workaholic cult/culture and her husband Elgin Branch (Billy Crudup) is a career-driven, fully immersed technocrat at the Microsoft mothership. They have one daughter, Beatrice (“Bee”, played by Emma Nelson) who appears to be as eccentric as her agoraphobic mother.
The book explores the sources of Bernadette’s social, familial, and creative undoing, including other antagonists who have been eliminated from the film’s plot. And the movie surprisingly begins by revealing where Bernadette did, in fact, go, a mystery that’s not disclosed until the end of the book. But it was the director’s decision, and a good one. People won’t pay double digit admission to see a movie where Cate Blanchett disappears for a major chunk of the story. (Most savvy bookworms would quickly surmise that Bernie headed south of Seattle. Way south.)
Fans of the novel who enthusiastically awaited the release of this film won’t let naysaying critics deter them. They will find a way to accept this edited version of Bernadette’s great adventure. The movie was already pushed back from its originally scheduled March release, making the anticipation for fans of the novel that much greater.
The settings in Seattle (actually shot in Pittsburgh) and Antarctica (actually Canada) could prove for movie-goers to be a welcome antidote to the lingering steamy days and nights of summer. If you ever dreamed of traveling to the South Pole, you may be satisfied just watching the experience through Bernadette. Baby penguins and all.
For those without any attachment to the novel or the characters eliminated by the script, it will be well worth having Cate Blanchett win their hearts and loyalties. Blanchett is always a compelling scene stealer, and she is no less impressive in this role. The plot tweaks are a little convoluted and tangential, but no major damage is done to the storyline. On the 50th anniversary of peace, love, and music, a feel-good, happily-ever-after ending is just what the love doctor ordered.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is rated PG-13 for language and adult themes (drug-related material).