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.”

Apr 03

“Cinderella”: The Newest Incarnation and Its Messages

This year’s remake of Cinderella featuring Lily James as (Cinder)Ella, Cate Blanchett as the Wicked Stepmother, and Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother, is currently a top box office hit as well as a critical favorite.

What interesting new take necessitated this latest version? Which of the following messages and/or psychology, never before seen on screen, is the take-away?

A). The Cinderella Complex: Women’s Hidden Fear of Independence, a book and concept developed by therapist Colette Dowling in 1981, is thoughtfully examined as an important social issue of our times.

B). A deeper analysis of the “envied and the envying,” à la the 1983 book Cinderella and Her Sisters by Ann and Barry Ulanov.

C). As in the 2013 Cinderella: A Tale of Narcissism and Self-Harm by psychologist Joseph Burgo, we get to find out how living with so much hatred and abuse could actually affect Cinderella.

Just playin’ with ya. No fancy psychology here. This Cinderella is simply a faithful enough adaptation of the original tale—though with one new and oft-repeated message.

And there’s approval from The Village Voice‘s  Stephanie Zacharek:

There’s no empowerment message embedded in Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, no ‘Girls can do anything!’ cheerleader vibe. That’s why it’s wonderful. This is a straight, no-chaser fairy story, a picture to be downed with pleasure. It worries little about sending the wrong message and instead trusts us to decode its politics, sexual and otherwise, on our own. And face it — kids have been left on their own to decode the politics of fairy tales for centuries…
Like all Disney films, Cinderella does have a message, and the fact that it’s repeated about eighteen times shouldn’t be held against it. On her deathbed, Cinderella’s mother urges her daughter to ‘Have courage, and be kind.’ If fairy-tale movies need to have messages at all, is this such a bad one?

More from Susan Wloszczyna,

…The handling of the heroine might prove to be the film’s most controversial detail. Some might find this Cinderella, whose belief in kindness is meant to be her super power and the key to overcoming those who stand in her way, a little too lacking in spunk and ambition. A goody-two-slippers, as it were. Yet her compassion for others is what makes her special and saves her from simply being a victim in need of rescue.

Kristen Page-Kirby, Washington Post: “…Reaching out might get you hurt. It might make you bitter. It might get you locked in an attic; it might get you a place in a palace. You’re not guaranteed a reward because you had courage and were kind; courage and kindness are themselves the reward.”


Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times:

If you suspected…that Cate Blanchett as the Stepmother just might steal the movie … well, no kidding…

Aside from Blanchett, this ‘Cinderella’ is sweeter than marzipan, pretty as a dressed-up kitten and only occasionally the littlest bit dull.

Katy Waldman, Slate: “[Branagh] manages to de-toxify Disney’s flagship fairy tale without overcorrecting away its prettiness, sincerity, or charm.”

Richard Corliss, Time: “Nearly a century after that black-and-white cartoon short, and 65 years after a ‘classic’ animated feature that missed the mark, Disney finally got Cinderella right — for now and, happily, ever after.”


Sample it yourself below:

Aug 19

“Blue Jasmine” Updates “A Streetcar Named Desire”

Just out is the new character-driven film written and directed by Woody AllenBlue Jasmine, starring Cate Blanchett as a New York City woman in crisis who reconnects with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco. Watch the trailer here:


Everyone agrees—Blue Jasmine is Allen’s modernized version of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News, offers further info about the plot:

In a series of flashbacks, Jasmine’s investment broker ex-husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) is revealed as a philandering sneak. His Hamptons home and Park Avenue life were paid for via Bernie Madoff-style schemes.

After Hal commits suicide in prison, Jasmine, who’s been wandering the streets, winds up at Ginger’s. But Ginger’s fiancé Chili (Bobby Cannavale), a speak-the-truth mechanic with a rough persona, sees Jasmine for what she is, throwing her even deeper into her mental crisis.


Rex ReedNew York Observer: “Like Blanche in Streetcar, Jasmine is a mystic combination of purloined innocence and Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis—exasperatingly manipulative but meltingly vulnerable, always waiting for someone to save her…”

Dana StevensSlate:

Washing down her Xanaxes with a vodka martini (or in a pinch—and Jasmine gets into a lot of pinches—a straight shot of vodka) as she narrates her constant, anxious inner monologue to whoever will listen, Jasmine attains the paradoxical state of being fascinatingly tiresome…

Jasmine’s various pathological behavior patterns are on ample display—in scene after scene, we watch in squirming half-sympathy as she traps herself with self-aggrandizing lies…She disintegrates beautifully before our eyes…

Claudia Puig, USA Today:

She lies incessantly, recasting situations to put herself in the best possible light. She pops fistfuls of Xanax and tosses back vodka to numb her pain.

‘She’s cuckoo, baby,’ says Chili (Bobby Cannavale), Ginger’s boyfriend.

Allen’s well-structured, deftly written story centers on a complex character struggling with mental illness. Blanchett gives Jasmine dimension. She’s entitled, egocentric and unsympathetic. But she’s also a victim of a devious spouse, heartless friends and a culture whose materialistic values have encouraged her vapidity.


Andrew O’HehirSalon: “…Ginger and Jasmine are both adopted and not biological sisters, but despite their drastically different personalities, both are stuck in a repeated cycle of domineering and borderline abusive men. Both meet white knights who offer the promise of redemption and are way too good to be true. Ginger has a torrid fling with a sound engineer named Al (comedian Louis C.K.), while Jasmine meets a smooth-talking, well-dressed diplomat named Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), who moves with startling speed toward a marriage proposal and promising Jasmine a future as a politician’s wife, smiling beside the lectern.”

Stephanie ZacharekVillage Voice: “Only Andrew Dice Clay, in a small role as Ginger’s Low-Class™ onetime husband, pierces the movie’s highly polished bubble world; he comes off as a person whose veins run with blood rather than some liquefied director’s conceit.”

Richard CorlissTime: “If the film has a vital, complex character, that would be Ginger…This congenital optimist does the best with the scraps life offers her: a sister she has little in common with and, cross your fingers, a kindly new beau, Al (Louis C.K.). Her affair with Al summons Blue Jasmine’s most plausible, affecting scenes.”


Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: “…(T)here’s something cathartic about a contemporary film that’s willing to explore madness as an expression of who a person really is. Blue Jasmine is about what happens when one lost soul meets the cruel real world.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “Richly chronicled characters, sharp dialogue and that stupendous centerpiece performance by Cate Blanchett are contributing factors in the best summer movie of 2013 and one of the most memorable Woody Allen movies ever.”

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon:

I haven’t even brought up Tennessee Williams’ ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ or the doomed character of Blanche DuBois (whom Blanchett has played on Broadway), for a couple of reasons. If the specter of Blanche hangs over this whole movie like a combination of San Francisco fog with New Orleans humidity, it’s also the ultimate invidious comparison. On one side, we have one of the greatest works of American drama, whose tormented and self-deluded central character stands for so many inexpressible things about women and sexuality and the painful cost of pretend normalcy and the divided soul of the South. On the other, we have this pallid imitation, a freak show whose alternately compelling and repulsive heroine can’t disguise the fact that it’s a movie by a sour old guy who no longer likes anything or anyone and who also, more damningly, just isn’t interested.