Its title suggests that the title character is lost, but the offbeat comedy Where’d You Go, Bernadette isn’t really worth finding.
This muddled adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Maria Semple benefits from committed performances, yet lacks the narrative dexterity to modulate its comedic and dramatic elements.
It’s a mildly amusing yet mostly uneven saga of self-discovery that showcases the versatility of both director Richard Linklater (Boyhood) and Oscar-winning star Cate Blanchett, until you start scrutinizing the details.
Blanchett stars as Bernadette, a suburban Seattle mother who once was a prominent architect before an apparent mental breakdown rendered her a cynical pill-popping recluse. She’s lost her creative mojo and gets her jollies from mean-spirited jokes on a chipper neighbor (Kristen Wiig), while her tech-executive husband, Elgie (Billy Crudup), passively hopes she snaps out of it.
Their bond remains tight with their teenage daughter (Emma Nelson), who impulsively suggests a family trip to Antarctica to follow up on a school assignment. Her parents somehow agree, except that Bernadette’s behavior is growing more erratic under the weight of suppressed grief and other emotional setbacks.
The film finds clever ways to covers familiar territory about midlife crises and creative rebirth, including some innovative gimmicks to cover the contextual and expository gaps. One highlight is a sequence in which Linklater cuts back and forth between Bernadette griping to an old colleague (Laurence Fishburne) and Elgie talking with a therapist (Judy Greer) — both trying to rationalize the same situation in completely different ways. “We’ve started to drift,” Elgie vaguely suggests.
The character-driven screenplay, co-written by Linklater and the husband-and-wife tandem of Holly Gent and Vince Palmo, embraces its eccentricities without becoming overwhelmed by them, save for the rushed third act. Crudup and newcomer Nelson both navigate tricky roles with understated complexity.
However, Where’d You Go, Bernadette ultimately is driven by coincidences that require an excessively level of buy-in, visually and emotionally, especially in the second half when Bernadette is on her way back up.
That’s when Blanchett valiantly tries to generate hard-earned sympathy for a woman whose affliction leaves her in search of a spark to bring her — and the film — back to life.