I find Richard Linklater’s films to be pretty hit or miss. I really cherish The “Before” Trilogy and have appreciated Dazed And Confused (1993), The Newton Boys (1998), and Bernie (2011). Those are all really good films, but the bulk of Linklater doesn’t work for me and Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2019) is no exception. I feel that outside of his Texas milieu Linklater often struggles to articulate a lot of dimension to his characters; such is the case with Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett).
Linklater has thrown away the epistolary format of the novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette in favor of a traditional narrative structure in his adaptation. The issue here isn’t that the film’s form isn’t avant-garde enough, but that the voices that could take on a nuance and detail in a letter or email are relegated to serving the plot as plastic signifiers. Elgin (Billy Crudup) suffers the most as a result of this choice. His relationship to Bernadette has no depth and nothing to build on in the film, so his choices as a character register as either sinister or as some form of schizoid mania. Likewise the Kristen Wig character Audrey cannot escape Linklater’s pigeon holing so that her scene when she finds a kinship with Bernadette after feuding for so long just lands flat.
Cate Blanchett is an amazing actress and is able to make her character compelling and “real”, but the rest of Linklater’s film just crumbles around her. Nothing she can do on screen can breath real life into Where’d You Go, Bernadette.