The idea of creative inspiration and the essence of responsibility are ideas that plague many high functioning visionaries. But the texture of social awkwardness and blending that into a sense of being is always tricky. This subtlety is very hard to capture on screen and much harder still to make entertaining and likable. While the tendencies of a director are very indicative to this, only a few actors can accomplish a balance while still pushing the boundaries.
With “Where’d You Go Bernadette?”, Annapurna, as a company, continues to take chances on original material. Very few major companies with money backing will focus on character structured mid-range films which used to be the focal point of the industry before the tent-pole franchises took over. While the large movies have their fun and importance of course, it makes it very hard for especially the under 10 million dollar indies to make a dent. Annapurna has had its troubles but with two of the more affecting films this year so far, the other being Olivia Wilde’s “Booksmart”, the essence of original material pushes to the top.
While the strength of “Booksmart” was the story and the direction with effective performances, “Bernadette”, despite the steady hand of director Richard Linklater, is all about Cate Blanchett. Her belief and balance of what this woman is going through in terms of different ideas and motivations pulling her back and forth, especially involving her connection to her daughter, is palpable. Her ticks are believable although maybe at times overplayed but the comedy and heart comes through at the most specific moments, whether it is picking her daughter up at school, talking to her husband in a quiet restaurant or most specifically singing a song in the car again with her daughter.
Blanchett’s character is a highly regarded architect known for thinking out of the box who fell off the scene once she gave birth to her daughter. There were complications during the birth but it is interesting how that process diverted her psychological process. It feels very real and yet it is the progression towards the creative release that eludes her that threatens to tear her life and sanity apart. Blanchett, like when she played Katherine Hepburn in “The Aviator” found these very distinct moments that were fleeting. An example from that film was when she was so enthralled when DiCaprio as Howard Hughes comes back and tells her of his jet fighter flight that one can see she wants to do it herself. One can see that sparkle when she speaks of the love she used to have for architecture in “Bernadette”.
The third act of “Bernadette” delivers to the point of what the character needs to be to transcend and the catalyst that helps motivate it. While it is built up effectively, the resolution almost seems too neatly wrapped up at the end as if the epilogue was what was needed to make the narrative work (which is not the case). The movie becomes more about the realization instead of the execution. While this is a small aspect, one hoped to see the entire process more. However the balance of nature vs. nuture, and theoretical idea vs. practical application is effective relayed.
“Where’d You Go Bernadette?” is a continuing rarity in the film world, an original mid-budget film with scope that examines the human condition but with a movie star perspective. Cate Blanchett is luminescent in the role simply because of the brilliance of layers she brings while the character-focused director Linklater continues to show his diversity yet his original style continues to melt into the background perhaps by design.
By Tim Wassberg