[Screen It]


(2019) (Cate Blanchett, Emma Nelson) (PG-13)

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Dramedy: A once-famous architect turned misanthrope's behavior affects her relationship with her husband and their teen daughter.
Bernadette Fox (CATE BLANCHETT) was once a world-famous architect heralded for her imaginative designs. But following the actions of one of her clients, she had a break-down, turned into a misanthrope, and now lives in a run-down fixer-upper in Seattle with her software designer husband, Elgin Branch (BILLY CRUDUP), and their teenage daughter, Bee (EMMA NELSON). Her neighbors, such as Audrey (KRISTEN WIIG) and Soo-Lin (ZOE CHAO), gossip about her, and while she still has a good relationship with Bee, her marriage is becoming increasingly strained.

That worsens when Bee wants the family to go to Antarctica, something Bernadette really doesn't want to do. And when her actions further strain her interactions with Audrey, Elgin eventually turns to psychiatrist Dr. Kurtz (JUDY GREER) for help. With the trip quickly approaching, things eventually come to a head, with it unclear whether Bernadette will ever find her calling again.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
A key plot element of the James Bond spoof comedy "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" revolves around the film's villain, Dr. Evil, traveling back in time to steal Austin Powers' mojo. That, of course, mostly affects his libido and status as a lothario, and thus robs him of his self-confidence.

Most people, especially creative types, though, don't need an arch-villain to engage in any sort of time travel based sabotage to lose their mojo. They do that on their own, usually stemming in part -- and often fully -- from a chorus of voices, sometimes external, but more often internal, that rattle around and sing negative "you're a loser" lyrics in their head.

Such is the case with the titular protagonist in "Where'd You Go, Bernadette," a dramedy that's oddly missing a question mark at the end of the title while simultaneously making one question why it isn't a better film. Based on the 2012 novel of the same name by Maria Semple -- which I have not read -- it tells the tale of an architect (Cate Blanchett, in what's arguably one of her weakest performances) who was once world-famous but has turned into a misanthrope.

Her only true friend is her teenage daughter, Bee (Emma Nelson); she's made enemies with her next-door neighbor Audrey (Kristen Wiig); and she's letting her behavior take a toll on her marriage to software engineer Elgin (Billy Crudup). She can't even bring herself to have the leaking holes in her fixer-upper Seattle home patched and mostly gets things done via a virtual assistant half-way around the world with whom she speaks daily.

The film is directed by Richard Linklater who's made some terrific movies in the past, but this one -- written by him and Holly Gent and Vincent Palmo Jr. -- simply feels lethargic and unfocused for most of its 130-minute running time. It also starts off badly -- beyond giving too much away by showing Blanchett's character kayaking in the waters of Antarctica before rewinding five weeks -- by failing the old "show, don't tell" rule of filmmaking.

The teen daughter serves as the occasional narrator and dumps situational and character exposition on the viewer rather than allowing us to witness it and come to that conclusion by ourselves. An online video about the protagonist's past career does that in an even more egregious fashion, which also holds true for the moments she dictates to her online assistant. It's lazy storytelling that does the film no favors, especially considering the languid pace and the tone that simply feels off from the get-go and never recovers.

The title presumably is intended to ask the basic thematic question of what happened to this woman and her drive -- something that's eventually revealed but isn't as interesting or intriguing as all seem inclined to believe -- as well as the physical logistics of where she disappears to in the third act.

Well, since the opening scene shows that and much of the film revolves around her neurotic response to her daughter wanting the family to travel there, it's no real mystery. Maybe it is in Semple's novel, but it simply feels flat and less than engaging, all while there's little doubt she'll somehow find her mojo once again while down in the cold environs near the South Pole.

I have to admit I was frankly taken aback a bit when Linklater's name appeared in the credits at the end of the film. While he doesn't have a perfect track record, he's usually quite adept at films that explore relationships of various kinds.

One can sense the potential here in that regard, but the end result has me wondering if it's possible that Dr. Evil went back in time and stole Linklater's mojo, or at least this film's. That certainly seems to be a possibility and thus "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" rates as only a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed July 24, 2019 / Posted August 16, 2019

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