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IR Film Review: WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE [Annapurna]

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.

A-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: OCEAN’S 8 [Warner Brothers]

The movement of wit and style in “Oceans 8” is palpable. Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett dance like maneuvering cats across the screen in one of those pairings that decidedly needed to happen and one wonders why it took so long. Granted this is based off the basis of the Oceans films. Despite this, director Gary Ross is no Steven Soderbergh. There was something classically beautiful about “Oceans 11”. This movie has glimpses of that but much of it is done in a matter of fact style and decidedly unlike an old school heist film which the first Oceans felt like. Blanchett has the aspects of old school Bogie and Bullock Dean Martin but the overall heist almost seems too much in the real world without the true stylistic touches needed (beyond the music). We feel aspects of Bullock & Banchett as a team with the other 6 (most specifically Sarah Poulson’s character –- whose fence should have movie of hers all her own). All of these characters are fully formed. But everything serves the heist plot which itself in ultimate structures has holes despite the reassurance from Bullock’s character that she has thought everything through.

In the beginning of the film, like “Oceans 11”, you see these light ticks in the characters which is what makes Bullock so engaging on screen…that humor. Speaking with her mouth full which Blanchett coes back with a quick quip about her being Ukrainian. Lightning fast. Then it simmers down when those little bits should have been amped up. Easy to do in a scene and improv would have worked. There doesn’t seem to have much of it allowed here. They probably were not let go within the characters enough to really let loose. Again the texture is that this is a heist pure and simple with details that need refining.

Hathaway as a specific form of the mark seems to have more fun than anyone though she is utterly overplaying the character, albeit on purpose, but it almost seems out of sync. Bonham Carter as a designer has the reverse issue. Even in a more subdued character one was hoping for more acidic wit that she is known for no matter what she does. Even one look in “Sweeney Todd” from her conveyed a lifetime. Again it might have just had to do with control of the director. The characters that truly play it up and get that balance right is Awkwafina and Rhianna. They come off as effortless in many ways. But like Casey Affleck and Scott Caan in “Oceans 11”, they were just mechanizations to the plot, not the focal point. Bullock and Blanchett have to do the heavy lifting but that incessant banter that marked the Clooney/Pitt interaction could again have been played much more up between Bullock/Blanchett since they are every bit on that level.

In terms of story structure there is a lot of similarities to 11…and this is on purpose. They also don’t overuse that connection which could have been easily done but also key it in enough to make it work. Certain misdirects and coincidental connections are simply at times too convenient in terms of the plot and not in an undeniable way. Now against all this, the film is fun to watch as the play is going. But when reflected more on how it works, it crumbles a bit. Again that is not the fault of the actors but of the script and, to a more specific point, the direction. However, it is tall order considering the film it is being compared to. The most apt reference at times to make with this is perhaps to “Red”. Everyone in that film knew they were playing a slick farce and racheted it up. John Malkovich especially). The people here are aware for sure but the plot takes over too much to really let that shine and take it to another level. The set up at the Met Gala is inspired. The actors perfect to a T. But plot and direction simply not quite up to par.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Interview: Cate Blanchett For “Blue Jasmine” [Sony Pictures Classics]

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