WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE (2019)

August 15, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Has she lost her way or lost her mind? The Bernadette Fox we meet is a misanthrope. She doesn’t much like her life. It’s a life with a loving husband, a workaholic tech genius. It’s a life with a crumbling, once majestic mansion that she is remodeling one spot at a time. It’s a life with a smart daughter who admires her mother. It’s a life that expects participation at a level Bernadette is unwilling to commit. And it’s a life that is not the one she envisioned for herself.

Two time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett plays Bernadette, and as with most of her roles, she embodies the character. It’s a role that more resembles that of her character in BLUE JASMINE than in CAROL. Bernadette is not really a likeable person and she clearly feels out of place in suburbia … yet we find her interesting – in a train wreck kind of way. She’s a bit reclusive and seems to best communicate with Manjula, her virtual assistant in India. The daily dictations come across as therapy as much as directives for such vitals as fishing vests.

Bernadette describes herself as a “creative problem solver with good taste” and as the self-proclaimed “Bitch Goddess of Architecture”. A mid-life crisis is pretty easy to recognize (unless it’s your own). It’s rarely about the person you sleep next to, and often about “finding one’s true self”. This syndrome is especially irksome for a parent, and is actually better described as selfish behavior. Bernadette was a rising star in the Los Angeles world of architecture, and when Microsoft bought her husband Elgie’s (Billy Crudup) software, the couple relocated to Seattle where he could continue his high-tech pursuits. Bernadette stopped designing and focused on being a mother to daughter (and the film’s narrator) Bee (Emma Nelson). In fact, it’s Bee’s request for a family trip to Antarctica that pushes Bernadette to the brink.

The supporting cast is brimming with talent. Kristen Wiig is Audrey, the neighbor and private school mom who manages to push every wrong button for Bernadette. Audrey is a victim of Bernadette’s mean streak in one of the more outrageous scenes in the film. Zoe Chao is Audrey’s friend and Elgie’s new Administrative Assistant. Laurence Fishburne appears as Bernadette’s mentor, and Judy Greer is underutilized in the role of psychologist. Others you’ll recognize include James Urbaniak, Claudia Doumit, and Megan Mullaly. But despite all of that talent, this is Cate Blanchett’s (and Bernadette’s) movie. Is it a powerful performance or an overpowering one?  I’m still not sure.

What is certain is that the Production Design of Bruce Curtis is exceptional. The old mansion is worthy of its own story, and provides a distinct contrast to Audrey’s spit-shined coziness next door. The scenes on the ships at sea are also well done, and Bernadette in the kayak makes for an absolute stunning visual.

Of course the film is based on the 2012 best-selling novel by Maria Semple, and director Richard Linklater co-wrote the script with his ME AND ORSON WELLES collaborators of Holly Gent and Vincent Palmo. We typically discuss how an actor might be miscast, but this time the debate could be in regards to the director. Mr. Linklater is a wonderful director with such diverse films as BOYHOOD (2014), BERNIE (2011), BEFORE SUNRISE (1995) and DAZED AND CONFUSED (1994). He’s a naturalistic story-teller with personalities we recognize. Bernadette looms so larger-than-life, with her grandiose gestures and over-dramatizing every moment that she’s almost cartoonish at times. At times, Linklater seems like everyone else … not sure what to make of Bernadette.

The film differs in many details from the novel, but the spirit remains. This plays like ‘Diary of a Mad-Disgruntled-Unfulfilled Housewife’, and it’s obvious to viewers that Bernadette’s near seclusion is actually her hiding from herself. Ms. Blanchett is a marvelous actress, one of the best of all-time. She is set to play the legendary Lucille Ball in Aaron Sorkin’s planned LUCY & DESI film. Ms. Blanchett commands our attention for Bernadette, whether it’s in the comedy segments or the more philosophical moments. Rarely will you see a film whose Act I and Act III are so tonally opposite. The first part plays like an old-fashioned Howard Hawks comedy, while the last part is Bernadette’s more somber search for artistic expression once she is freed from the constraints of family life. It’s the saddest comedy I can recall.

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NED RIFLE (2015)

April 2, 2015

ned rifle Greetings again from the darkness. The third and final entry to writer/director Hal Hartley’s trilogy provides a fitting end to the saga that began in 1997 with Henry Fool, and continued in 2006 with Fay Grim. Mr. Hartley’s style lends itself well to the indie world and film festival circuit, as he connects with unusually paced and elevated dialogue, an arid-dry sense of humor, and a slew of misfit characters.

The four main characters have been played by the same actors across all three films. Liam Aiken was only 7 years old when he first played Ned, and he becomes the focus of this final chapter. Ned is the son of Fay (Parker Posey) and Henry (Thomas Jay Ryan). When this story picks up, Fay is serving a life sentence in federal prison for terrorist activities, and Henry’s whereabouts are unknown … except by “Uncle” Simon (James Urbaniak), the garbage man-turned-poet laureate.

Ned is turning 18 years old and has spent four years in witness protection as part of a family led by a guilt-ridden Reverend (Martin Donovan). Ned has really taken to religion – especially the fire and brimstone vengeance parts. See, Ned blames Henry for Fay’s life turn and aims to gain revenge.

The first part of the movie has Ned and Susan (Aubrey Plaza) tracking down Henry. Susan is the grad student supposedly working with Fay on her autobiography, and stalking Simon for his poetic metaphysics. But of course, Susan has secrets and some are less than pleasant.

Once Henry is located, Mr. Ryan provides a nice energy boost and shift in tone. He is one glorious film character … unless of course, you are his son or some other poor schmuck left floundering in his wake of life. He and Ned don’t really have much of a bond, but Ryan and Plaza create some fireworks that some may find a bit creepy.

Just keeping up with the rapid-fire dialogue from Henry, Simon and Susan is a cinematic joy, and the off-beat humor prevents the dark material from ever reaching a bleak stage. When Ned visits Fay in prison she asks disgustedly “You’re religious?” – making it clear that she, a convicted felon, is extremely disappointed in her 18 year old son. It’s played for a laugh and gets one. There is another line spouted by Susan that includes a review of “obscene work indifferent to mainstream approval“. We have little doubt that line was written by Mr. Hartley to describe his own work.

watch the trailer: