Richard Linklater’s latest movie, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, has opened to surprisingly mixed reviews. Linklater has always been a tough director to nail down. It's often a shock to remember that the guy who directed Slacker also made A Scanner Darkly, School of Rock, and the Before trilogy. His 20th film, released this week, is an adaptation of Maria Semple's 2012 novel, Where'd You Go, Bernadette? On the surface, Linklater feels like a good fit for this story of a brilliant but troubled architect whose neuroses and sudden disappearance leave her family, friends, and foes baffled. It also helps to have a great cast, with Cate Blanchett in the lead and supported by Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig, Judy Greer, and Laurence Fishburne.
However, things have not been smooth sailing for Where'd You Go, Bernadette. The film was originally scheduled for release on May 11, 2018, before being pushed back to October, then next March, then August 9, before finally landing on this Friday. Rumors swirled that the director was not happy with the final product and it didn't help matters when the production company behind the movie, Annapurna Pictures, were reported to allegedly be seeking advice on filing for bankruptcy. Given how quiet the release of Where’d You Go, Bernadette has been, critics worried that they had an unmitigated disaster on their hands.
Instead, the movie has mostly been tepidly received, which is still disappointing given the caliber of talent involved. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 45% based on 76 reviews, while on Metacritic, it has a score of 52 based on 29 critics. This is a decidedly average film, as per the critical consensus, one that struggles with its tone and oversimplifies the prickly emotional complexities of the source material (although even the most damning reviews have something good to say about the cast). Here’s what the negative reviews had to say about Where’d You Go, Bernadette.
"I found myself unmoved by Bernadette's stasis, her on-the-rocks marriage and even her quest to get her creative spark back. The most emotionally resonant part for me came compliments of Wiig's character Audrey, who seems like a caricature of a perfect mom for most of the film until she hits you with an unexpected bit of humanity. But it's hardly enough to make the film the life-affirming journey it thinks it is. And besides, a Linklakter and Blanchett collaboration should be more than passable."
"There’s nothing wrong with deviating from source material, but this desperate and ineffective solution to the material’s interiority will make the film version of Bernadette seem even more anticlimactically baffling to those who haven’t read the book. Readers will at least understand why this story exists in the first place. But even in the more successful first half of the movie, there are signs that Linklater has failed to crack the work as a whole."
"One of Linklater’s main issues is that he can’t quite figure out how to tell her story, so information is conveyed via inconsistent chunks of narration from her daughter, a clumsily explanatory documentary, an awkwardly inserted Ted talk or other characters talking about her in exposition-heavy dialogue. It lumbers when it should feel lithe right through to a sappy, sudden ending, and sadly even the performances, from a stacked cast, aren’t enough to lift it from mediocrity [...] Where’d you go, Bernadette? Eh, who cares."
"If Bernadette is Linklater and Blanchett’s collaborative expression of the right balance between parenting and artistry, it’s a curiously anodyne affair that proposes the distinctly unenlightening—and privileged—idea that the medicine against despair is just a little R&R."
"Linklater’s beguiling, fussy take on “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is so focused on her final destination — on rescuing her from her artistic slump — that the plottiness of its final act dilutes the character even further. The more engaging question is where Bernadette disappeared to for the two decades before the movie begins. It may not be much of a mystery, but where Bernadette went is far more believable and broadly real a story than where she ends up. It’s a story that’s too complicated for Linklater to tell here."
"There are a number of moments in “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” that come close to registering the kind of impact that the filmmakers were going for. But most of those fall in the final section, where Antarctica’s breath-taking backdrop cannot help but overwhelm the twee comedic “will she ever build again?” melodrama being played out in front of it."
It’s not all doom and gloom, of course. Plenty of critics have stood up for the film as well. Where’d You Go, Bernadette isn’t one of Linklater’s best movies – he’s set the bar too high for himself there – but for some, there is still plenty to recommend.
"It’s not quite a smooth transition, and neither is Blanchett’s performance; half the time she seems to be acting for theater, a sort of mannered melancholy that verges on camp; it’s only when Bernadette is really suffering that we get to see the quieter shades of her character come through. Wiig and Crudup, and even some of the smaller cameo roles — Laurence Fishburne, Megan Mullaly, Judy Greer — reach for notes more resonant than straight satire."
"Linklater’s visuals are similarly unfussy, direct; as always, he creates felt intimacy among people. A late interlude in the wilderness, though, shifts the movie into a poetic register, turning natural beauty into an aesthetic declaration with color, flowing camerawork and a piercing sense of the ineffable that suggests where his heart lies."
"Bernadette’s tragedy isn’t violent or traumatic and is premised on a certain amount of privilege, but in its context it is a tale of lost potential and reclamation of self that anyone who has ever lost their way can relate to. The novel may have been a shaky foundation upon which to build, but Richard Linklater has built a film worth living in."
"One imagines how over-the-top zany this could have been made, had the adaptation been overtly faithful, yet Linklater is able to extract the heart of the story while injecting some of his own characteristic themes. A poignant look at the commitment required for a relationship to work and the damage enacted when creativity is stifled, there’s even room for the most earnest admiration of the craft of architecture since Columbus. It takes an entire act to begin to hit home, and Bernadette’s melding of a self-discovery and missing-person story offers no genuine suspense in how the finale will play out, but by wearing his heart on his sleeve, Linklater’s comforting approach is more than enough."
"Just as he did with Patricia Arquette in Boyhood, Linklater sensitively explores the ambivalence of a woman who wonders whether she’s given over too much of herself to the work of being a parent […] For all this movie’s faults, I can’t wait to take my own middle-school-aged daughter to see it; it’s rare to find a movie about mothers and daughters that neither sentimentalizes nor oversimplifies that too often idealized relationship."
"Sometimes idiosyncratic directors do surprisingly accessible and moving work when paired with more structured material and a strong and willing star, and so it is with Richard Linklater and “Where’d You Go, Bernadette.” [...] The film is not without its problems, but its focus on the power of a mother-daughter bond and what can befall creative people when they no longer create generates considerable emotion by the close."
Did you see Where’d You Go, Bernadette this weekend? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.