The performances, particularly Blanchett's, outweigh the product in this adaptation that favors audiences familiar with the story and its anxious-genius main character. There's a moment in the film where Bernadette tells a research scientist that she needs to inhabit a space completely to design for it; that's also how Blanchett immerses herself in a character, whether it's Queen Elizabeth, Galadriel, Kate Hepburn, Jasmine, or Hela. The character of Bernadette is purposely unlikable at first, with her utter contempt and petty squabbles and her upper-class distance from reality. Her one happy place is any time she's with her daughter, Bee, who's the apple of Bernadette's eye and possibly the only person around whom she's joyful. But Blanchett is brilliant at expressing the subtle changes that revive Bernadette's artistic energy.
Opposite Blanchett, the standouts start with young Nelson, who's wonderful as Bernadette's intelligent and curious miracle child; may casting directors find more coming-of-age work for her. Crudup's Elgin is perhaps too sympathetic in the film and not as overtly an egotistical workaholic as his character is in the book, but it's still clear that none of the other school parents blame or hate him for not being involved, the way they do Bernadette. And Laurence Fishburne is remarkably effective in one pivotal conversation scene as Bernadette's prophetic and inspiring former mentor. Visually, the film focuses on architecture and the design of each space in a way that honors the main character. Plotwise, however, those who haven't read the book may be less invested in the central story arc, especially with the Manjula storyline, which is more humorously handled in the source material. This is an adaptation to see because of the performances more than anything else, because Blanchett always makes it worth a viewer's time.