Where’s the heart of “Where’d You Go Bernadette?”
The concept of a “suburb” has always been a pop culture staple — from the cult classic “Heathers” to 2016’s “Bad Moms,” these enclaves of society are a thing of intrigue. Rational conversations and enriching activities are thrown out the window only to be replaced by raging mothers and parent-teacher conferences over a child’s mild cough. Based on the book of the same name, “Where’d You Go Bernadette?” follows Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett, “Ocean’s 8”) as she, and her life, seem to unravel underneath the artificial pressure of suburbia.
As a movie, “Where’d You Go Bernadette?” is perfectly average. As a book-to-movie adaptation, however, it leaves much to be desired. Especially given the fact that much of the important plot points and character development occurs between the lines of emails and messages sent between characters. The kind of nuance that sets apart “Where’d You Go Bernadette?” as a book doesn’t lend itself to an easy transition to the big screen.
Bernadette herself is a well-developed character — her long-winded monologues to Manjula (her online “assistant”) capture the manic energy of Bernadette in the book. Sadly, she is the only character that receives this kind of treatment. Her daughter, Bee (Emma Nelson, “Margaret and the Moon”), is left to occupy the movie solely as the stereotypical “nerd” at her school, with little exploration into how her childhood heart issues might have affected her or even the lengths to which her life was affected by her mother’s disappearance. What little emotion that came from Bee was the result of Nelson’s acting — no credit can be given to the less-than-impressive screenplay.
The “Galer Street Gnats,” as Bernadette so lovingly calls the other mothers at Bee’s school, fail to incite the kind of strong hatred these characters should garner in any situation, fictional or otherwise. Audrey (Kristen Wiig, “Bridesmaids”) and Soo-Lin (Zoe Chao, “God Particles”) are pivotal characters in the book, with each woman going through some intense changes in their relationship and their personal lives. Yet we see none of that in the movie. On top of that, their relationship with Bernadette changes dramatically as well. There seemed to be an attempt at showcasing this change between Bernadette and Audrey. However, without many of the details from the book, it seems far-fetched that in a moment of vulnerability Bernadette would go to one of her sworn enemies for help. If we recognize that there is a difference between the kinds of details included in a movie compared to those in a book, this abrupt change could potentially be warranted, but that would be a hard argument to make.
Within every average movie, though, there are always a few good moments. Take Cate Blanchett, for example. Fox is a force to be reckoned with and Blanchett was the best person to do it. Her rough bangs and sharp features come together to create the kind of intimidating woman who really doesn’t belong in a Seattle suburb. Add to that a slight edge to her American accent (Blanchett is Australian, after all), and the effect is complete.
“Where’d You Go Bernadette?” is not a bad movie, per se. It simply serves as a reminder that not all books need to be turned into movies. Maybe this let-down is my own fault because I prefer to read the book before I see the movie or because I continue to see adaptations no matter how many times I am disappointed. All I really know is, despite how fun it might be to think about what my favorite characters would look like on the silver screen, some of their stories are better suited to the detail-oriented environment of a book.