A “mysterious comedy” that is neither mysterious nor comical.
Lately, I’ve been saving money at the movies by not buying any popcorn. Before I started this blog and only saw a movie every couple of months, I never hesitated about grabbing a bag of popcorn. But because of how often I go to the movies now and how astronomically high prices are, I had to cut out the snacking. Every once in a while though I’ll watch the trailer for a movie I plan on reviewing and it’ll look so utterly blah that I convince myself, “oh, there’s no way I’m sitting through this without some kind of snack.” It only took one viewing of the bland trailer for Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2019) to get me to start putting aside enough funds for popcorn.
Based on the novel of the same name, Where’d You Go, Bernadette tells the story of the title character, a retired architect living with her husband Elgin and daughter Bee in Seattle. Faced with a stagnant lifestyle, Bernadette struggles daily with a host of mental illnesses and an addiction to pills. One day Bernadette disappears and it’s up to Elgin and Bee to figure out where she went.
This movie was dumb. And icky. It was dumb and icky. It was dumb because the mystery was nonexistent and it was icky because of its depiction of mental illness. Trust me, we’ll talk about it. For starters, and I know people don’t say this anymore, but this movie is so random. If you were to ask someone, “what’s the plot of Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” they might respond, “oh, it’s about a woman who goes missing.” But that’s not even an accurate answer because you guys, there is no mystery. This isn’t a spoiler in the least but literally there isn’t a single part in this entire movie where the audience doesn’t know exactly where Bernadette is. Even the characters who are searching for her are 99 per cent sure they know where she is and guess what? They’re 100 per cent right. It dawned on me later that the question, “where’d you go, Bernadette?” is really more of a intellectual one, rather than a mystery of Bernadette’s actual whereabouts. The movie doesn’t even come close to being the adventurous mystery comedy it advertised itself as and instead, tries to be a hard hitting story about a mentally ill woman putting her life back together. Unsurprisingly, it fails in that regard as well.
So here’s the icky part of the movie and this may be open to debate which I strongly encourage. The depiction of mental illness in this movie is appalling. It’s made very clear that Bernadette struggles with depression, PTSD and social anxiety, but besides an intervention that her husband plans to get her to go to therapy, the movie largely ignores her struggles. Which is a huge mistake because Bernadette’s ongoing personal crisis is by far the most interesting part of the story. Yet it’s never given time to breathe and drive the story in a direction that feels right. Instead the dull “where is she?” plot is and the rest of the boring characters suffocate the only interesting part of the movie and never let it be the focal point of the story. If you’re not going to take the time to address this woman’s issues and have the story be about her, than what is the point of this movie? Multiple times you’ll find yourself screaming at the screen in desperation as Bernadette and her family just ignore all of her issues, never diagnosing them or receiving any help for them. On top of all that, everyone is constantly shaming and vilifying this poor woman, blaming her for everything that goes wrong in their lives. Yep. Definitely icky through and through.
Good God was this an uneventful story. Nothing happens and none of it matters. I was at least in hour in when I realized that besides Bernadette’s debilitating mental health which was continually left in the lurch, there was no plot to the movie. The story, which is unnecessarily massively convoluted, tries so hard to get you to care about what’s going on but it’s a fool’s errand. Colourful as the visuals may be, there is nothing of intrigue going on in Where’d You Go, Bernadette. This movie is like three different movies in one. They all possess a spark of mild intrigue but when strung together, completely fizzle out. Ugh, but truly the most bizarre and questionable thing about Where’d You Go, Bernadette is when this already dull movie just stops in its tracks to show us an exposition-heavy documentary of Bernadette which has no impact on the story. And this happens twice! Once when the movie actually picks up some steam and looks like it’s heading towards some semblance of a plot! I was so unimpressed by this movie that I went to the bathroom during, something I try never to do and have only done once since starting this blog. When I got back, I couldn’t believe I had another hour of this sluggish, tedious mess to sit through.
There were only two things getting me through that last hour: Cate Blanchett and Kristen Wiig. Though she’s trapped in an utterly lacklustre movie, Blanchett is remarkably wonderful as the title character. She manages to effortlessly shift from lighthearted and loving in one scene to grim and pessimistic in the next, giving the type of realistic performance that every actor intends to do but only few pull off. Blanchett is one of the handful of actors working today who is a true chameleon. She’s marvelous in any role she’s cast in and no two characters she plays are ever the same. Blanchett makes each role her own and I thank her wholeheartedly for being one of the two saving graces in Where’d You Go, Bernadette. The other is Wiig as Bernadette’s busybody neighbour, Audrey. Entertaining as usual, Wiig steals every scene she’s in with nothing bu the level of sheer enthusiasm and commitment she brings to this comic relief character. Much like Kate McKinnon, if you put Wiig in your movie, she’s guaranteed to pull focus and be nothing short of a charming delight.
Far too long and not even having a satisfying ending to make your boredom worthwhile, I have to advise that you give Where’d You Go, Bernadette a skip. If you read the book maybe give it a watch just to see how it measures up but casual movie-goers should be warned to stay away. This movie will have you rolling your eyes at its drab reveals, nonsensical decision-making and annoying characters. Finally, I’ll say this: You never know where Where’d You Go, Bernadette is going to take you. Not exactly in a fun way, but in more of a, “are we really doing this?” way.
Have you read or seen Where’d You Go, Bernadette? What did you think?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!