There seems to be something missing in this movie besides Bernadette.
The Richard Linklater edge.
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Emma Nelson, Kristen Wiig, Laurence Fishburne
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Other: An Annapurna Pictures release. Rated PG-13 for language and drug references. 104 minutes
The poet director who gave us intimate, detailed, sometimes visionary works such as the "Before" trilogy and certainly "Boyhood" faced a big challenge in adapting Maria Semple's 2012 bestseller "Where'd You Go, Bernadette," a comic romp about an agoraphobic Seattle architect who disappears, leaving behind her workaholic Microsoft genius hubby Elgin and sensible 15-year-old daughter Bee right before their scheduled vacation to Antarctica.
Semple's novel, which I have not read, but read about, tapped many informational sources such as police reports, emails, transcripts and phone messages to show how an incredibly complex woman deals with the downside of maternity and marriage.
With multiple narrative resources at Linklater's disposal, I wondered how imaginative, how crazy "Bernadette" could be in movie form. But Linklater opted, as he said in Entertainment Weekly, to instead concentrate on the book's "emotional core" of conflicted motherhood.
So, Linklater, operating from a screenplay by Holly Gent, Vincent Palmo Jr. and himself, surprises us not with a pure Linklaterly work, but a perfectly conventional comic journey of self-discovery.
Cate Blanchett supplies cool composure to Bernadette, a tamped-down character silently screaming to be the creative force of nature she had been 20 years earlier when people hailed her as the next Frank Lloyd Wright.
Bee spells it out in voice-over narration, a device from Semple's novel, but one unnecessary and often redundant in Linklater's movie.
"I think that what happened to my mom is that she became so focused on her family, she forgot about herself," Bee says.
Emma Nelson plays Bee with flawless confidence and comfort.
Nelson, now 15, auditioned for the role at 12, shot the film at 13, then kept her role a secret for more than a year.
Her Bee easily meshes with Blanchett and Billy Crudup as her father, whose literary extramarital shenanigans with a co-worker (Zoë Chao) have been excised here, presumably to preserve Elgin's limited likability as a self-obsessed husband incapable of empathizing with his wife's growing resentment.
"People like you must create," mentor Paul Jellinek (Laurence Fishburne) tells Bernadette, "otherwise you become a menace to society!"
At least for Bernadette's uppity, social-climbing neighbor Audrey Griffin, played with judgmental, snobby relish by Kristen Wiig.
Audrey accuses Bernadette of driving over her foot (but did she really?), and becomes livid when a spat over blackberry bushes ultimately contributes to the near-destruction of her upscale home.
Bernadette may be a flawed hero, but a human one for a new era of self-aware moms.
Consider that most strong heroic movie moms (such as Emily Blunt in "A Quiet Place" and Brie Larson in "Room") or surrogate movie moms (such as Sigourney Weaver in "Aliens") have traditionally fought to protect children.
Bernadette fights to protect herself, to salvage that creative component which defines her, frees her, and completes her, yet slowly and insidiously becomes erased by the mundane day-by-day pressures of motherhood.
Maybe "Bernadette" is more Linklaterly than I thought.