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Thread: WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE (Richard Linklater 2019)

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE (Richard Linklater 2019)


    Finding your bliss - but losing the edge

    Richard Linklater has tackled many different projects as a director but what he's taken on here - a literary adaptation - of the bestselling epistolary novel, Where'd You Go, Bernadette - sill seems unlikely. The theme is an uplifting one: the importance of exercising one's creative skills, especially if they're considerable. The action follows Bernadette (Cate Blanchett), a brilliant architect from Los Angeles, as she's led back to practicing her special craft after twenty years of oblivion and increasing nuttiness. The movie is lively and sometimes engaging, the characters quirky and appealing. But the source material is watered down. Edge has been lost, and much detail.

    The source novel by Arrested Development writer Maria Semple is a sharp and witty satire. It's epistolary in a modern sense: a collage of notes, blogs, texts, emails, transcripts - and a quite brilliant and hilarious TED Talk, cut to one minute here. It embodies some pretty barbed (if not unloving) lampooning and lambasting of the city of Seattle, where Bernadette followed her husband Elgin or Elgie (Billy Crudup) two decades earlier when he sold his computer animation system to Microsoft and went to work for them administering its development. Seattle is where the action mostly takes place, along with Antarctica, where in the last third the principals, Bernadette, Elgie and their teen daughter Bee (excellent newcomer Emma Nelson) all go on a cruise.

    Of course the chief vehicle for the satire, the epistolary collage element, is lost, as it would have to be if this were not to become six hours long and full of multiple voiceovers. (That's one thing that makes this unlikely for a film adaptation by anybody, though it's also specifically unlikely for Linklater, who's not a sharp, barbed satire kind of guy.) Another thing abandoned or sidetracked is the centrality of Bee, the 14-year-old, a frail baby with a heart problem, brilliant, about to go away to prep school to Choate Rosemary Hall emulating her parents: it's she who presents the epistolary assemblage after it's sent to her by a hostile neighbor, Aubrey (Kristen Wiig), who like much here, is softened and made eventually friendly. Bee is less central because - big surprise, and greatest distortion - Bernadette, in the person of Cate Blanchett, never disappears, despite the title. That is, she does, for Bee and Elgie and others who go looking for her. But her "disappearance" isn't, for us, since she's hardly ever off the screen. So the "mystery" element is lost.

    Another loss is caused by the softening of Elgie, which leaves Billy Crudup with a less complex character than he ought to be playing, because Elgie in the novel is as weird and self-absorbed as Bernadette, who has become agoraphobic (if she wasn't always) and a pill-hoarder (those elements are very present in the movie). Only while Bernadette has given up her very creative, problem-solving, "green before green" architectural projects (the Twenty Mile House, whose cooption by a rich bloke triggered her disillusion, is described in the movie) - while Elgie is is a workaholic with little time for anything else. That is alluded to in the movie, but in such a gentle way. You can't soften what's not soft.

    In the event, the sequences of "intervention" where a therapist, an aide of Elgie's, and an FBI man are called in to propose Bernadette undergo psychological treatment become more earnest and less hysterical than they are in the book.

    That about sums up the most important ways that Linklater's adaptation (with Holly Ghent and Vincent Palmo Jr.) deviates from the novel and loses its specificity and edge. Note how Moira Macdonald of the Seattle Times points out the way the movie loses all the Seattle satire that made the book "irresistible" and Samantha Vincente in Oprah Magazine recounts how the movie "leaves out the book's best bits" including "a major subplot" concerning Elgie and his administrative assistant Soo-Lin (Zoe Chao) whose duties, shall we say, are cut back here.

    When we've got all this in mind, it's pretty damning. The movie is still enjoyable, if you just want to while away a couple of hours. One thing constantly alluded to and captured in the scenes of Emma Nelson and Cate Blanchett together is the warm friendship of Bee and her mom. As I am not the first to note, a highlight of the film is the scene were they sing "Time After Time" together driving along in Bernadette's big posh black Jaguar. It's a magic moment. I loved the exterior shots of Antarctica. The notion of kayaking among big chunks of ice also was magical.

    Where'd You Go, Barnadette, 130 mins., releases Aug. 16, 2019. Metascore 52%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-17-2019 at 03:40 AM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area
    Further comments.

    On rereading the entire novel, I found it not quite as sharply satirical as I imply in my review. It's very good-natured, arguably too much so. However it is true that there are many little complaints about annoying aspects of Seattle, such as verbal habits of the locals and the omnipresence of Dale Chihuly glass works, gathered like insects overhead. A big thing is truly the spoiling of the mystery by revealing to the film audience all along where Bernadette is after she disappears, which is held in suspense till near the end of the novel and gives it a sense of suspense and relief. One of the best things in the book is the descriptions of Bernadette's adaptive and economical methods as an architect. The Twenty Mile House is only one example but the key one: in building and furnishing it she pledged to use only materials found within a twenty mile radius, not just acquired locally but found or made locally. The descriptions of working with what was available are fascinating and inspiring. This is also, by the way, a good picture of what a superstar architect can be like.

    It's also true that while there are long passages from Bee's point of view - downgraded as mentioned in the movie -- there is a lot that is an inventive collection of different "found" texts that build up the narrative, creating the novel's world and its rich gallery of characters as the story unfolds. Giving this up means more of a loss than merely converting an epistolary novel (consisting only of letters from a handful of characters) into a drama.

    Still want to say, though, that watching the movie was in no way a chore for me. Say Cate Blanchett's performance is "flat" or doesn't come off if you like (pretty ridiculous though: see the Trailer). It seems pretty energetic to me. Obviously some of the author's intended edge and brilliance is lost in this.

    Somebody should put the in-car "Time After Time" duo singalong of Beernadette and Bee on YouTube, and then maybe in a pinch you could skip the rest. I'm still a little puzzled why the Metascore is quite so abysmal.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-18-2019 at 02:33 PM.


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