“Where'd You Go, Bernadette”

 

            Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) was a tremendously successful architect in L.A. While still in her 20's.  She was creative, she was fearless, she was charming, and she was celebrated as the next big “thing”.  And then, somehow, it all fell apart.  Except we, the viewers, don't really find that out except as a backstory.  The now-middle-aged Bernadette Fox we are introduced to is a little bit loopy, somewhat anti-social, keeps an unkempt house, and does her best to avoid all contact with people other than her husband, Elgie (Billy Crudup) and her 15-year-old daughter, Bee (newcomer Emma Nelson).  When she does interact with her closest neighbor, Audrey (Kristen Wiig, in an un-funny role), it's always a disaster.

            Bernadette talks frequently to her virtual assistant, turning over many daily tasks, like shopping and scheduling appointments.  What Bernadette didn't know is that the whole virtual assistant program is a cover-up for an identity theft ring.  Bernadette also didn't know that her husband was becoming so concerned about her erratic behavior that he schedules an “intervention,” featuring a psychologist who encourages her to voluntarily commit herself, an FBI agent ready to expose the identity theft ring, and to make matters more embarrassing, Elgie's new administrative assistant from his high-powered job at Microsoft.  Yes, Elgie has been working on a technology involving a patch placed on the forehead that can actually transmit our thoughts to the written word.  The techie-geeky employees are applauding the advance, but some of us in the movie audience are shuddering at the prospect.

            Bernadette is shuddering at the prospect of an Antartic trip, which her daughter Bee had proposed for the three of them, Mom, Dad, and daughter, as a send-off present to her before she trundles off to boarding school, as her parents had done.  Bernadette is not only afraid of being seasick, she is terrified of being around so many strangers.  What Bernadette doesn't yet realize is that her pent-up anxiety really has to do with suppressing her creative side since the birth of her daughter.  She's an artist without an outlet, and it's not only making her uncomfortable in her own skin, it's affecting those around her.

            Eventually, we do wind up in Antartica, with lots of shots of penguins and a few of seals, but somewhere in the icy desolation, Bernadette finds the inspiration for a new creative outlet:  a station specifically designed for that forbidding climate.  It's a strange kind of happy-for-now ending, because it involves a several-week separation, but what we're really celebrating here is the idea that if you love someone, you want for them to find their fulfillment, as well, even if it doesn't directly involve you.  Well, it's not exactly romantic, but it is affirming of committed relationships, which itself is rare enough in 21st-century Hollywood.

            Kudos to Cate Blanchett for a multi-layered, multi-faceted performance that conveys a complicated character compellingly.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association