A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Where'd You Go, Bernadette is director Richard Linklater's adaptation of Maria Semple's best-selling 2012 novel about an eccentric, anxious, and borderline agoraphobic Seattle mother. But Bernadette (Cate Blanchett) is more than she seems (a bored, rich housewife); she's actually an architectural genius who hasn't worked in nearly 20 years. Expect a few instances of strong language (including two uses of "f--k" and the occasional "bitch," "ass," "s--t," etc.), as well as several shots of Bernadette's conspicuous consumerism in the form of Amazon packages and Apple products. A teen vapes, and adults drink. Mature content also includes marital discord and a couple of upsetting arguments. But there's plenty to discuss, from sexism and stereotypes to the importance of mentors and close parent-teen relationships.
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Go see this movie NOW!! On the Big Screen!! Bernadette gives you an adventure to Antarctica and back, giving a healing booster to your own soul, strength, mind and spirit along the way.
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What's the story?
Richard Linklater's WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is an adaptation of Maria Semple's popular 2012 book about an eccentric, anxious, semi-agoraphobic, and mean Seattle mother/wife named Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett). Bernadette only really cares about her daughter, Bee (Emma Nelson), and her husband, Elgin Branch (Billy Crudup), a rich Microsoft visionary. And she especially can't stand the "Galen School Gnats" (the busybody, do-gooder moms at Bee's liberal-elite private school), like her neighbor Audrey (Kristen Wiig). After finishing middle school with perfect grades, the precocious Bee asks for a holiday family trip to Antarctica -- a request to which Bernadette, who can barely leave the house and outsources nearly all of her duties to Manjula, an email-based virtual assistant in India, surprisingly agrees. But as the trip nears, Bernadette -- who, it turns out, is a former MacArthur "Genius" award-winning architect who hasn't worked in 20 years -- goes missing.
Is it any good?
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether Where'd You Go, Bernadette is likely to be best enjoyed by those who read the novel first, or whether it's easy to follow if you haven't read the book. What are some of your favorite page-to-screen adaptations, and why?
What does Paul mean when he says that artists become a "menace to society" when they can't create? Does it change the way you perceive Bernadette when it becomes clear that she's a brilliant and renowned architect?
How does the movie portray parent-teen relationships? Why is the bond between Bernadette and Bee so unique?
- In theaters: August 16, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: November 26, 2019
- Cast: Cate Blanchett, Emma Nelson, Billy Crudup
- Director: Richard Linklater
- Studios: Annapurna Pictures, United Artists
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters
- Run time: 104 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some strong language and drug material
- Last updated: May 6, 2021
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