Directed By Richard Linklater
Starring – Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig
The Plot – Based on the runaway bestseller, the film is an inspiring comedy about Bernadette Fox (Blanchett), a loving mom who becomes compelled to reconnect with her creative passions after years of sacrificing herself for her family. Bernadette’s leap of faith takes her on an epic adventure that jump-starts her life and leads to her triumphant rediscovery.
Rated PG-13 for some strong adult language and drug material
– Gorgeous scenic shots. If Linklater was able to capture anything in this mess of a film, it’s in the gorgeous backdrops and exotic landscapes that are all filmed on location, without a single ounce of computer generation in their rendering. Antarctica is immensely gorgeous, and the way Richard weaves his way in and out of caves, over cliffs and crystal clear water, and establishes a rich vibe of isolation around us, gives importance to the feat that Bernadette has attained. In addition to this, the main setting of Seattle is beautifully rendered, preserving a psychological pulse in visuals in the form of rainy weather and rotting houses, that tell us everything about the character’s controversial move, and what it meant to her career. This is visual storytelling at its finest, and Linklater, a master of the lens, seduces us again with a variety in presentation that constantly keeps raising the stakes.
– Surprising cameos. A name as big as Linklater certainly comes with credible A-list drop-in’s, and the ones in “Bernadette” feel endless because of how even halfway through the movie they keep on coming. I won’t spoil any of the names here, but you would do yourself a huge favor if you kept away from IMDB or any other sites where they summarize the entirety of casts. For my money, the many icons of comedy who speak on Bernadette’s wisdom as an architect, in particularly one “John Wick” alum added the strongest presence to the main cast, and illustrated an outline of the genius before she became jaded by a conventional home life.
– One woman thunderstorm. Thank the movie gods for Cate Blanchett, because without her whirlwind of depth to the psychological pulse of the title character, we would otherwise be left with a series of performances that feel too wooden and forced to be believable. What works for Blanchett is the complexity, in that she’s really juggling two characters for the price of one. When we are introduced to her, we see the claustrophobia and overall smothering of a life that weighed this woman down in the most shape-shifting manner, and it makes it easier and satisfying to see the transformation that grows from that once she disappears. Blanchett constantly feels on the verge of tears, wrapped in a ball of anxiety from everything from a disrespectful neighbor to a marriage that is falling apart at the seams. It gives her this frail encompassing that matches the small bits of exposition deposits, like endless pill bottles, that we’ve come to know about the character, and cements another show-stealing performance from one of Hollywood’s biggest names going today.
– Cool post movie credits. Be sure to stay after the movie, as we get an informative and artistic rendering for the way first draft sketches come to life for architecture. Anyone who isn’t involved in the craft will find value from this, as it’s not only cool to see how even the most miniscule detail is captured, but also how the vision of the sketch becomes fully realized once everything is finished. What compliments this wonderfully are some fast-forward sequencing movements that slowly allows the drawing to fade away, and the building itself to come to life in a seamless transition. Audibly echoed by the sounds of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”, the sequence is art imitating life in the form of Bernadette’s sketches, that preserve her passion in ways that show us her genius up front.
– False advertising. Considering this movie is marketed as an adventure comedy, the movie I actually got completely pulled the rug of expectations from under me in the worst possible way, and left me with this sluggish melodrama that never earned a single ounce of empathy from me. On a tonal capacity, this film feels like three different writers got in a room, and each plead their case, so the movie decided to keep the best parts of each. This not only undercuts the consistency of dramatic impact, but it also often contradicts its own direction with scenes of chaotic mayhem, that you can’t help but laugh at the sheer lunacy of it all. By the midway point, I completely checked out of this film because the sharp turns of a film trying to attain far too much tonally became as exhausting to mentally as it was physically to the title character.
– Plotless. For the first hour of this film, there is nothing in the way of conflict or resolution to feed into the plot that I described up top. In fact, the plot itself doesn’t even materialize until there is a half hour left in the movie, and even then the slashing of this film that sat on the shelf for over a year limits the pull of its mystery by trimming the run time. This film’s run time went from 130 minutes in the first draft that was supposed to release in March, and is now a 99 minute shell of its former self, and especially during Bernadette’s long distance journey, we never get to feel the conquering of her anxiety at sea, so the payoff is relatively unfulfilled.
– Halts progress. Every time the film starts to gain even a shred of momentum, the screenplay sharply brakes on these internet video sequences where we get lazy exposition in the form of former colleagues of Berndette speaking of her brilliance. These inserts aren’t quick by any stretch of the imagination, pausing the current day narrative for five minutes at a time to fill in the gaps where the original script before hacking certainly explained easier. It does this two times, and what’s even more concerning is that nothing included certainly isn’t anything that couldn’t be explained in passing conversations between Bernadette and her husband, or one scene in particular where a former colleague already on the tape finds her, and the two share a lengthy scene discussing her new life in Seattle.
– Detestable characters. Bernadette is certainly no peach, but neither is Wiig’s neighbor character. For the first half of the movie, these are the two sides that you have to choose from, and the movie’s begging for empathy between two upper class rude snobs isn’t made any better by the film’s second half, which proves how inconsequential everything prior really was. For the second half, we are still introducing new characters in the Arctic, and what doesn’t work about this late introduction is that the people described only serve as a convenient plot device to all but conveniently feed Bernadette her next spoonful of inspiration to get her over the hump. If a film lacks compelling character’s, it will be the hardest sell ever to me, and “Bernadette” never provides a side that any logical audience member can reason with, establishing a state of mind for Seattle that apparently breeds assholes. Why is this a best-seller again?
– Cheap plot device. This is a strange one because there’s a subplot introduced midway through the movie that has to do with fraud, and the way the script handles this horror story layering gave me more questions than the answers I was providing. For one, it inspired Bernadette to keep the architect mentality brewing, so why even head in this completely out of left field direction? For two, it wraps up in a way that is every bit as inconsequential as it is convenient in its resolution, providing no long lasting impact for why it was even incorporated in the first place. This subplot is never mentioned again once it is handled, so the way it introduces a conflict, and then handles it within ten minutes of one another is truly mind-numbing for the lack of weight it instills long-term.
– Strange pacing. For the first two acts of the movie, the unnecessary inclusion of some subplots stretch out the body’s movement in a way that makes the first hour feel twice of that, before the central plot even materializes. When it does, the film then rushes through the inspiring parts in a way that diminishes the meaning of the message, all the while illustrating two very sharp opposite directions in pacing that tested what little investment I already had in the movie. The obvious answer is the slashing that was done in the second post production that this movie went through, but I felt like the film tried to overly incorporate far too many aspects of the book that don’t translate well to the screen, without it ever finding its own voice of originality to not feel constrained by novel enthusiasts.
My Grade: 4/10 or D