Review: Richard Linklater’s ‘Where’d You Go Bernadette?’ is Finally Set Free
“I have this one shot to launch my second chance.”
Richard Linklater’s Where’d You Go Bernadette? (WYGB?) finally sees the light of day! After three delays that saw it pushed out of its original May 2018 release window, a great deal of concern has been placed on the film. Would it be any good? Does it have anything to do with Annapurna’s recent financial woes? Will the film be as bad as the initial first trailer let on? Well we now have answers for all of those: sort of, probably not, and no.
After seeing the film, you come to understand Annapurna’s positioning. On a marketing level, it’s very niche, playing into older moms under going through a midlife crisis, but also not fitting neatly in their brand. It’s an odd duck, but once WYGB? sheds its initial layer, the film’s core reveals itself and that tender Richard Linklater emotion comes through, making it a palatable film if you can stomach some sugary moments.
Bernadette Fox is in a rut. After settling down in rainy Seattle after concluding her L.A. architecture career, she finds herself in a bitter state. She resents her neighbors, her projects never finish on time, and her relationship with her husband has frozen over. The mundanity of life is getting to her and culminates in a breaking point, a point that causes Bernadette to step outside of her comfort zone and into the unknown with the hopes of rekindling the spark she had in her younger years.
That horrible trailer I referenced at the beginning of this review is the exact tone WYGB? follows for the first forty minutes. Cringe inducing jokes and quirky humor are seeping out from every scene to the point where you really believe this is a YA mother-daughter film to catch on a Saturday morning. Nonsense runs rampant early on and you’ll surely roll your eyes at some of the banal problems of suburbia — perhaps hangovers from the novel source material. It’s really burdensome, and dare I say, annoying to watch this play out.
That being said, the film reaches an inflection point — approximately when it decides to use its PG-13 F-bomb card twice — where it really sheds its cutsie outer layer and becomes something more a-tune to a Linklater film. There really are some humanizing themes playing to the tune of a mid-life crisis at the heart of this film. Perhaps resonating with Linklater in some way, Bernadette has entered a period of life where things don’t click anymore. Getting out of bed is harder. Engaging in conversation is dejecting. And the passion that once drove her career is stifled. It is the film’s intent to show how she gets back on the horse and finds renewed interest in her work and purpose in her daily life, perhaps something that keys into Linklater as he makes films later in his career.
It is here where things get interesting and the complexities of Bernadette start to become more captivating. To see someone’s life in a tailspin and to see them later reverse it is endearing and where I found most of my interest for WYGB?. What turned me off initially all but left the film as it settled into this notion, and while some Hallmark-Channel moments rear their head every now and then, the primary driver is sufficiently engaging.
Aside: WYGB? should have been released so long ago that a joke in the final cut about seeing Jeff Bezos’ brother-in-law at a party is made unintentionally and morbidly hilarious by the newer developments in the news cycle.
Plus there’s a scene where Bernadette trash talks Seattle city planning which, as someone who regularly walks through this intersection, I loved.