Aug 16

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette”: Film from Book

An artist must create. If she doesn’t, she will become a menace to society. Maria Semple, author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette 

When interviewed for Psychology Today in 2013 by Jennifer Haupt, author Maria Semple gave the above quote as the “One True Thing” she learned from writing certain lead characters in her satiric novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

What’s the book about? The most frequently repeated and most concise description comes from a New York Times review excerpt: “A misanthropic matriarch leaves her eccentric family in crisis when she mysteriously disappears…”

Janet Maslin, The New York Times, takes this further: “The tightly constructed WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is written in many formats-e-mails, letters, F.B.I. documents, correspondence with a psychiatrist and even an emergency-room bill for a run-in between Bernadette and [neighbor] Audrey. Yet these pieces are strung together so wittily that Ms. Semple’s storytelling is always front and center, in sharp focus.”

Apparently, however, the new movie adaptation may not live up to expectations—it’s getting an awful lot of disappointing reviews.

Richard Linklater‘s new film stars Cate Blanchett as Bernadette, who has been disconnected from herself for quite some time. Benjamin Lee, The Guardian:

Bernadette (Blanchett) is uneasy with her life and with life in general. She’s semi-agoraphobic, choosing time with family in her crumbling, extravagant, ever-dripping home rather than the risk of encountering the horror of other people and ‘the banality of life’. Her tech bro husband (Billy Crudup) is worried about her descent into pill-popping madness while her daughter, Bee (Emma Nelson), hopes that a family trip to Antarctica will help bring them all together.

Slight spoiler ahead: Of interest to this blog is Bernadette’s husband trying to get her help. In the book there’s an “attempt to stage an intervention that would place Bernadette in a mental health facility. In another satisfying moment of comeuppance the movie omits, Dr. Kurtz winds up tendering a letter of resignation after the chain of events make it clear that intervention never should have happened the way it did” (Samantha Vincently, Oprahmag).

The Trailer: Meet Bernadette’s teenage daughter Bee and husband, a Microsoft genius. Supporting characters include Kristen Wiig (the annoying Audrey), Laurence Fishburne, Megan Mullally, and Judy Greer as Dr. Kurtz, director of a mental health treatment facility.

Selected Reviews

Elizabeth Weltzman, The Wrap: “Not an ideal match for the source material, but those who arrive without any preconceptions – or are willing to stray from the novel’s style – will appreciate the assets of a modestly engaging and gently touching dramedy.”

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: “Amusing and sleepy pretty much describe this movie…”

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “If the family dynamics feel perfunctory and too-neatly resolved by the end…Blanchett’s nuanced portrayal of stymied creativity, exacting taste and sensibilities too bold and well-judged for an uncaring world manages to be funny and uncompromising in equal measure. In her capable hands, Bernadette Fox doesn’t wind up being likable — a quality Bernadette would surely detest — but she’s worthy of love all the same.”

Jun 30

“Gypsy”: Role Model for Unethical Therapists

Coming to Netflix today is Lisa Rubin‘s Gypsy, a widely panned series starring Naomi Watts as a therapist—a vastly unethical therapist.

Rubin offers this official film description: “Gypsy is a ten-part psychological thriller that follows Jean Halloway (Naomi Watts), a Manhattan therapist with a seemingly picturesque life who begins to develop intimate and illicit relationships with the people in her patients’ lives. As the borders of Jean’s professional life and personal fantasies become blurred, she descends into a world where the forces of desire and reality are disastrously at odds.”

Psychological thriller? Most critics seriously question how well Gypsy fills that particular bill.

Further plot details from Jen Chaney, Vulture:

Happily married (Billy Crudup plays Michael, her handsome lawyer-husband) with a daughter, a nice home, and a New York City office yanked straight out of a Z Gallerie catalogue, Jean ticks most of the boxes on the ‘she has it all’ checklist. She does have some issues, though, including a strained relationship with her mother (Blythe Danner), difficulty coming to terms with her non-gender-conforming daughter, and a low-simmering jealousy of the relationship between Michael and his assistant. To cope, Jean does what Gypsy the series does: spend minimal time genuinely exploring these matters in order to channel energy into unethically infiltrating the social and family circles of her patients.

Selected Reviews: Comparisons and Conclusions

Dan Fienberg, Hollywood Reporter: “Watts doesn’t play Jean as victim or villain and Gypsy doesn’t judge Jean, though many viewers are probably going to think it should. Professionally, the things she’s doing are wrong and the show’s only real tension comes from playing the same, ‘Is she about to get caught in her latest lie?’ beats over and over without offering an alternative perspective, allowing us to root for the cruelly manipulated patients.”

Jen Chaney, Vulture: “It’s like In Treatment with more weird, stalker-y behavior, except when it’s delving into Jean’s conflicts with fellow moms in her chichi Connecticut suburb. Then it’s like a far inferior version of Big Little Lies.”

Maureen Ryan, Variety:

It’s hard not to compare this show to ‘In Treatment,’ the HBO series about a therapist which had the good sense to keep its episodes to under 30 minutes. Not only did that series do a better job of turning most clients into three-dimensional people, it distilled the intensity of sessions into efficient, effective installments.
What transpires in Jean’s office, however, usually lacks insight and spontaneity, and her patients — who nurture obsessions with people who don’t return their interest — are a pallid, moderately annoying bunch. Jean’s eyes often glaze over with boredom, and it’s easy to see why.

Inkoo Kang, Village Voice: “The show is a confluence of interesting ideas: female midlife crises, competitive mothering, the parenting of a very young trans child, the invisibility of female sociopathy, mental-health professionals’ frustration at their own helplessness, and, especially, the vicarious thrills therapists (might) experience when they hear about the life-derailing pleasures that got their patients into trouble. But each scene wastes every opportunity to reach for something fresh or original.”

Brian Tallerico,

…a depressingly bad show for the talent it wastes on horrendous dialogue, unbelievable characters, and the kind of soapy plotting you’re more likely to see on a Lifetime TV movie than prestige drama…
Worst of all, none of it rings true…If I was the show’s therapist, I’d suggest it stop taking itself so damn seriously. Pick up the pace and give us something to care about. Get to the point and stop dancing around your issues. Because no one wants to dance this slowly.