Monday, August 19, 2019

An icy way to transcend madness

Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Richard Linklater’s film version of Maria Semple’s 2012 novel, is a somewhat oddball tale about fame, art, depression and yearning. Yet the film is riveting, thanks to a great cast including Cate Blanchett, one of today’s most versatile actors, and wonderful direction on Linklater’s part. Virtually any Linklater film, from his Before Sunrise and Waking Life titles right through to this one, is more than worth a view. So, hurry to Bernadette for its insights into misanthropy, creativity and longing, all set within a slightly whimsical context. Blanchett as Bernadette is a reclusive people-hating but well-to-do neighbor in a hilly Seattle neighborhood. She used to be a star architect but gave it all up when a crass television personality bought her imaginative dream home and totally destroyed it. Now, as a mother relegated to dropping off and picking up her daughter at school, scowling at her neighbor Audrey (Kristren Wiig), increasingly disconnected from husband and genius Microsoft engineer Elgin (Billy Crudup) and assertive daughter Bee (Emma Nelson), she is thrown into a new trauma. That’s when Bee requests, for her remarkable high school grades, a prize – anything she wanted! – of a trip to Antarctica. For Bernadette this is too much. It’s not the continent she objects to as much as the logistics of getting there, like being trapped on a boat with boring and crass fellow passengers. Meanwhile, a series of small events occur as the planning for the trip gets underway. A mudslide from her property slams into Audrey’s home during Audrey's much ballyhooed fundraising brunch. Audrey also alleges Bernadette ran over her foot while picking up her daughter at school. Husband Elgin has an affair with a co-worker (Zoë Chao). When talk turns to having Bernadette committed to a mental asylum she escapes, and to the unlikeliest of places - yes, Antarctica. The film (spoiler alert) shifts to the icy continent and for all the world looks like it’s been filmed there, including with penguins walking within feet of the characters as they talk about the meaning of life on a rocky outcrop. (Greenland in fact was where the movie was shot.) Upon discovering this, Elgin and Bee set off on another ship and hope to rendezvous with her. They do, but it makes no difference, at least for now. Because Bernadette, as a stowaway on a scientific mission to the South Pole, has at last found the creative spark that will transform her back into the starchitect she once was. At first blush this plot might seem absurd and your reaction might be, "why waste my time?" But watching the film it doesn’t seem that way, with the characters and events filling in as symbols and signposts to some of the deeper meanings of life.

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