Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

You’ve seen Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn in “The Aviator,” the wonderful, neurotic Jasmine in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” Bob Dylan? Yes, Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There.” But you’ve never see her as Bernadette Fox.

By now we all know that two-time Oscar winning Catherine Elise Blanchett from Ivanhoe, Victoria, Australia, better known as Cate Blanchett, is one of the screen’s most dynamic actors.
Opening Aug. 16 at Waterville’s Railroad Square and across America, Blanchett reinforces her reputation by becoming Bernadette Fox, a neurotic genius architect, winner of multiple awards, and notably, the MacArthur Genius Award.

“Bernadette Fox was the most exciting name in architecture 20 years ago,” an announcer tells us. Yes, she was, and now she’s here, a brilliant, damaged creature, a semi-agoraphobic marvel created by writer Maria Semple in her sparkling 2012 novel of the same name, and brought to the screen for your sheer enjoyment, adapted by director Richard Linklater, Holly Gent and Vincent Palmo Jr. Such a gift they give.

The backstory here is about Fox’s creation of the 20-Mile House (so named because she insisted that all material used come only from within 20 miles) that stunned the art world and won her the award.

Tragically, the trophy house was sold to a hostile neighbor who hated it and had it brutally demolished.

Soon after, the novel tells us, Bernadette, her ego and heart crushed, moves with her young family to Seattle, where she has four miscarriages and tries to rebuild her life. Good luck.

Now, hidden away in a gorgeous, decaying old mansion she’s redoing, Bernadette lives a quiet life away from the world of architecture, with her genius husband Elgie (a perfect Billy Crudup) and, finally a perfect daughter Bee Branch, “Bee” (an amazing Emma Nelson).

Bernadette hates people, do you wonder?

She leaves her house rarely, and then in various disguises and huge sunglasses, avoids mixing, even with the other parents at Bee’s school.

Mostly, she’s housebound, attending to redoing the old house, while constantly talking into her iPhone to a personal assistant in India, called “Manjula,” whom, we discover handles all, and I mean all, of Bernadette’s affairs.

Remember “Manjula,” this cellphone presence that in the end will result in a hilarious 8.0 earthquake that even you will feel.

Hubby Elgie, a math genius engaged with a new earth-shaking project at Microsoft, is loving, caring and concerned, but wields a soft hand when he can.

When Bee produces a perfect report card, she holds her parents to the deal promising her “anything she wants.” The “anything,” is a family trip to Antarctica. This trip will happen, but not in the way any of the players nor we can imagine. It’s pure movie-making magic.

Meanwhile, Bernadette’s aging mansion, a dark presence with its own hidden and unattended malignant maladies, will arise and eventually deliver a disaster of hilarious proportions to the neighbors and family.

This is where I stop. This is all you need to know. The man with the badge is from the FBI. The glaciers, magnificent and looming, will take your breath away, and just when the family, except for Bee, considers an intervention, Bernadette disappears.

The cast is impressive, Lawrence Fishburne as a warm and fun shrink, SNL’s Kristen Wiig as the neighbor from Hell.

But it’s Emma Nelson and Cate Blanchett as the best ever mother daughter team that turns on all the heat. “Where’d You Go Bernadette?” is a movie that should be, no, demands to be seen twice.


J.P.  Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and screen actor.

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