THE STORY – Bernadette Fox seems to have it all — a beautiful home, a loving husband and a brilliant teenage daughter. When Bernadette suddenly disappears, her concerned family sets off on an exciting adventure to solve the mystery of where she might have gone.
THE CAST – Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig, Emma Nelson, James Urbaniak, Judy Greer, Troian Bellisario, Zoë Chao & Laurence Fishburne
THE TEAM – Richard Linklater (Director/Writer), Holly Gent & Vincent Palmo Jr. (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 130 Minutes
By Josh Parham
Often times, one will come across a film that holds nearly no expectation at all for what the experience of watching it will be. The end result could be good or bad, but there’s very little from the outset to inform a prediction of what an opinion may be of it. Much of what was whispered and showcased of film seemed to indulge in this concept and walking into it, I admit to not being overly enthused at what I was about to see. Perhaps that played into my overall enjoyment of this film, a flawed yet entertaining romp that managed to keep me mostly invested in its tale.
An adaptation of the best-selling book, the film centers its story around Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett), a brilliant architect whose once undeniable genius has now been creatively stunted. She no longer indulges in her passion and instead has focused inward and closed herself off from the entire world. That is, from everyone that isn’t her husband Elgin (Billy Crudup) and daughter Bee (Emma Nelson). This does not stop the pressures of her life from mounting, whether dealing with an antagonistic neighbor (Kristen Wiig), an encroaching admin at her husband’s job (Zoe Chao), even a recently revealed criminal investigation from the FBI. All of these events force Bernadette’s hand to disappear on her own solitary adventure, leaving her family to desperately follow her in an attempt to find where she’s gone.
As is quite obvious, the centerpiece of the film is Blanchett, and she continues to provide evidence as to why she is one of the best performers working today. It’s quite amazing that, even though many probably would not describe this as one of her all-time best performances, there is still an enormous amount of energy and life she brings to the role. Blanchett plays every key of this character perfectly, whether that is to sell the comedic tone that emphasizes Bernadette’s neurosis or the more somber moments when she is emotionally vulnerable. Blanchett makes this character feel layered and engaging and delivers another great performance that she can add to her filmography.
Fortunately, this isn’t a film where the ensemble is held up solely by a singularly great performance. The entire cast also delivers wonderful turns that make them quite endearing as well. Crudup manages to convey a nice presence in his scenes, always attempting to be the family’s solid foundation while in a constant state of worry. He’s flawed without being sadistic, and the empathy that he embodies in his performance is lovely to watch. Same goes to Nelson, who shares believable chemistry with Blanchett and provides a grounded persona that works well against her adult co-stars. The smaller parts inhabited by Wiig and Chao are nice little flavors that support this group well.
If anything, this cast is populated by so many other smaller characters played by well-known actors that their roles as mere cameos just come across as distracting and underdeveloped. The core group is where this film shines, but the numerous parts relegated to the sidelines offer very little in terms of impact. Despite being played by the likes of Judy Greer, Laurence Fishburne, Molly Shannon, Steve Zahn, and David Paymer, these roles are not particularly memorable and simply pad the film out to a more unnecessary length. Thanks to the actors employed, the scenes are not too painful, but they do serve as reminders to some unnecessary elements.
If one were to describe why Richard Linklater is such a celebrated filmmaker, one of those arguments would be his meticulous attention to character. He allows his stories to create intimate portraits of people as they attempt to deal with the many complications of their lives. Much of this film indulges on that premise, and that is where it succeeds the most. Linklater’s hands as a director are never showy and help to support the character study he is building. It’s not the most accomplished directorial achievement he has shown, but it is one that understands how to hone in on those moments that maintains that emotional connection.
Where the film does falter, and by far the biggest failing, is in the script. While I will plead ignorance of knowledge of the source material, there is still an awkwardness to the storytelling that the film never quite overcomes. There is a pull between the perspectives of Bernadette and her daughter, and it can oftentimes make the pacing lose momentum. Ironically, most of the script’s problems come in the third act, when the title of the film actually starts to implement itself into the plot. Suddenly, the little eccentricities that were off-putting yet tolerable in the beginning start to take a massive toll, and despite the best efforts, the film hurdles toward an obvious conclusion that doesn’t feel revolutionary outside of its setting. It’s here where the film really loses steam and were it not for the performances, would be completely uninteresting.
The film is far from perfect, for sure. The script struggles to keep its plot completely engaging before it really loses nearly all commitment in the final act. At the same time, there is a charm that runs all throughout that’s hard to ignore, and most of that is because of what the actors are doing. The entire cast does an admirable job, but it really is Blanchett who shines the brightest. They make up for many of the story’s deficiencies and help to provide the film with an entertaining tone. I expected very little from this film, and what it ultimately gave me was enough of a good time to be appreciated.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A well-rounded ensemble, headlined by a terrific performance from Cate Blanchett. The balancing of comedic and dramatic tones is well done, making for a consistently entertaining story.
THE BAD – Some of the plot’s eccentricities are a little much. The third act of the film loses a lot of steam and some sideline characters feel underdeveloped and unnecessary.