If I were to wager a guess, at least half the people reading this didn’t know this movie existed. Judging by the film’s basement-low box office returns, the other half probably forgot about its existence entirely. To jog your memory it’s the Cate Blanchett movie that was pushed back almost six months and simultaneously marketed itself as a zany family comedy and a lighter version of Gone Girl, but in reality is neither.
Bernadette Fox is a seemingly manic agoraphobe who despises virtually every aspect of her life. She hates the rich beautiful community she lives in. She neglects her massive home and its endless potential. Worse still, she completely ignores her successful and concerned husband. The only person in her life she doesn’t push away with her own paranoid tendencies is her daughter, a seemingly perfect girl whose brains and gall are rivaled only by her devotion to her mother. It’s difficult to describe just what archetype Bernadette falls into. She’s like a mix of Edna Mode, Professor Trewlaney and Miranda Priestly. What I can say for certain is your ability to enjoy this movie centers entirely around whether or not you appreciate the purposefully enigmatic character of Bernadette Fox. As for this reviewer, I did not.
It would be a lie to say Cate Blanchett doesn’t give a good performance. She becomes this exhausting person perfectly, but scene after scene it just got on my nerves. There’s something about a character who pushes away everyone in the story that doesn’t exactly endear itself to those outside of it. The rest of the actors fit fairly well into their respective pockets; Billy Cruddup is his standard steady presence-Kristen Wiig does a great job as a neighborhood busybody but undergoes a switch that the narrative doesn’t exactly sell. A lot of the weight of the movie falls on newcomer Emma Nelson as Bernadette’s precocious daughter and while she has some solid scenes, every time the film included her relentlessly saccharine narration I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. It’s not her fault, in fact much of the movie was just far too schmaltz for my liking. The blame falls either on the source material or the director who endeavored to adapt it.
“…It’s not only needlessly disjointed but never figures out what it’s trying to be.”
I’m sure that Linklater found something inspiring in this material when he set out to direct it. Likely the film’s hook about an artist needing to create something or else they’ll go insane. I don’t believe he necessarily needed to make this as it’s not only needlessly disjointed but never seems to figure out what it’s trying to be. The movie begins as an off-tone goofy comedy and is strung together via a dragging middle to a bizarre and mawkish adventure story in the last act. The ending of the movie is kind of like a proto-Walter Mitty but somehow even more falsely profound. It’s all very pat and had me squirming to get out of the theater.
What can be taken away is Richard Linklater would be better served to his less-plotty roots, a la Dazed and Confused or Boyhood. My experience probably isn’t the typical one. I’m sure there are others out there who will be charmed by its plot, probably the book club crowd who made the source material so popular in the first place.