“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.

Per Rotten Tomatoes, Richard Linklater‘s new film stars Cate Blanchett as Bernadette, “a loving mom who becomes compelled to reconnect with her creative passions after years of sacrificing herself for her family. Bernadette’s leap of faith takes her on an epic adventure that jump-starts her life and leads to her triumphant rediscovery.”

Pre-“adventure,” Bernadette’s become disconnected with 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.”

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