‘Where’d You Go Bernadette’ a frantic search for a depressed mother

Where’d You Go Bernadette, directed by Richard Linklater and written by Linklater, Holly Gent and Vincent Palmo Jr, is a mystery comedy-drama that centers around a mother and daughter’s relationship. Former architect Bernadette Fox is depressed due to trauma and lack of creative outlet. She decides to embark on a trip to Antarctica for a chance of self-rediscovery, though her family assumes her as missing. 

Her daughter Bee is determined to find her mother at any cost  because despite her mother’s eccentricity, her mother is her best friend, and she knows that Bernadette wouldn’t leave her behind without reason. (BV 3.5/5.0)

Review by Junior Associate Beatrice Viri

Where’d You Go Bernadette is told through the evidence that Bee Branch (Emma Nelson) gathers, with interludes narrated by her as clues piece together. Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) is Bee’s agoraphobic, stay-at-home mother, while her father Elgin (Billy Crudup) is a genius working for Microsoft. Bernadette and Bee have a very close bond, while Elgin is distant due to his job. One day, Bee suggests going away for boarding school, and a family vacation at Antarctica — her mother becomes panicked at both proposals, but she and Elgin both relent as they both wish for nothing but Bee’s happiness.

Bernadette is disliked by most of the fellow mothers at Bee’s school, especially by Audrey (Kristen Wiig), due to her disagreeable nature and paranoia. She also delegates most duties to her personal assistant Manjula based in India, as she hates going outside. These factors pay a part in Bernadette’s disappearance and are products of her trauma. Bee unearths that her mother was formerly an architect, who even won the MacArthur “Genius” Grant due to her unparalleled creativity. Her biggest claim to fame is the “20 Mile House”, a project involving innovative sustainable solutions that is vastly admired in the architectural world.

However, now her mother is stuck in a creative rut, due to the tragedy of the house’s destruction by an unappreciative buyer coupled with a few miscarriages. Bee is the light of her mother’s life, but Bernadette’s lack of outlet has rendered her a “menace to society”. Worst yet, the Branch-Fox family becomes the target of the Russian mafia, due to Manjula being a front for an identity-theft scam. All of these stressors encourage Elgin to schedule an intervention, which pushes Bernadette to leave. Her father disillusioned, Bee leads the search for her mother, concluding that Bernadette is on the scheduled family vacation — and racing against time, Bee hopes that it’s not too late.

A mystery-drama with a hint of comedy, Where’d You Go Bernadette is a heartwarming family film that also explores the subject of mental health. Bernadette is someone who has depression and massive anxiety; we not only see this through manic outbursts and paranoid interactions, but through nuanced mannerisms like Bernadette’s hand movements. Art block and depression come hand-in-hand, so I appreciate the awareness to the subject as a creative. Blanchett’s superb acting brings a troubled character into life, and I appreciate the prevailing love Bernadette had for her daughter despite her eccentricities. Both mother and daughter prioritized each other, and Bee said that her mother was her best friend this is definitely a movie that will move families with a strong bond.

I was also pleasantly surprised by Audrey and Bernadette’s alliance when Bernadette decided to leave. A woman painted as a villain being an unlikely friend in a time of need is a trope I’m forever thankful for. Female friendship is incredibly important to portray, and I’m glad that more media opts for platonic bonds instead of petty grudges and cat fights.

However, Where’d You Go Bernadette is admittedly hard to get into at first glance. It takes time to piece the puzzle together, and for the story to get interesting. The interludes, though they do provide Bee’s insight, can be confusing and up until the “climax” of the film, the storytelling is a bit messy. Perhaps we can attribute it to Bernadette’s state of mind, and persisting state of disarray, but it can be off-putting to wait for the story to actually move. 

Where’d You Go Bernadette does have beautiful footage of the Arctic, and blue-tinted filters to reflect a certain melancholy that eventually turn bright. Hopefully, the cinematography by Shane F. Kelly make up for lacking storytelling factors, and serve as a reminder for preventing climage change. Overall, Where’d You Go Bernadette is a surprisingly evocative and family-oriented film that delves into some deeper topics, and is suitable for all ages.

© Beatrice Viri (8/19/19) FF2 Media

Reviewer’s Aside:

I will fully admit that I took Where’d You Go Bernadette personally, though I tried to be unbiased as I could in my critique. Its portrayal of the mother-daughter friendship is emotionally compelling in general, but the movie resonated with me very deeply. Somehow, Where’d You Go Bernadette mimicked the experiences I had with my late mother, right down to the daughter’s name being a nickname for my name. I was definitely more than a little affected, and though I was taken off-guard by the too-similar references to my life, I am glad that I saw it and was able to relate it to my mother. 

Photos: Cate Blanchett in the promotional poster for Where’d You Go Bernadette, Cate Blanchett and Emma Nelson as Bernadette Fox and Bee Branch in Where’d You Go Bernadette

Photo Credits: Annapurna Pictures

Does Where’d You Go Bernadette pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes! It focuses on the relationship between a mother and a daughter, and the other main characters are also mothers, with only two important male characters.

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