(Wo)man Up: The Search for Bernadette

She disappeared, and everybody is looking for her. But where did she go? 

Where Did You Go, Bernadette? by Richard Linklater tells the story of Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett). Narrated by her daughter Bee (Emma Nelson), the audience joins all the characters for a journey, one that is not only literal but also metaphorical. The trailer of the Annapurna Pictures drama-comedy was somewhat misleading. If you think that it’s a story solely about the family planning a trip to Antarctica, this film is not for you.  WDYGB, however, is everything but disappointing.  

The title character has a fascinating life, a beautiful daughter and a busy, but loving husband Elgie (Billy Crudup). One would think that nothing is missing from her life, but that’s a delusion. Under the facade of perfection hides a person maimed by social anxieties, fears, and an inept architectural career. Bernadette Fox is a walking mental health regression. Still, not one person in her life seems to notice her silent scream for help. When she puts her family’s life in a possible danger, her husband (finally!) settles on calling an intervention. But, before Elgie has a chance, Bernadette disappears. Her daughter Bee is desperate to find her mom, who happens to be her best friend. She forces her dad to follow Bernadette’s path and find her. 

Mental health is a crucial element in the film. From the beginning of the plot, the audience has a chance to notice Bernadette’s depression. Her husband is so busy with his technology company that he doesn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. The only person who could notice is Bee. Still, Bernadette always puts a brave face when in her daughter’s company. She is not only depressed because of her dead-end career, but that plays a large role. As an architect, she was once very well known, but she hasn’t created anything in twenty years. Her people skills are on level zero. Bernadette not only hates people, but she’s simply unable to have a conversation with an individual that is not a member of her family. That paints her as rude and cold. Her neighbor Audrey (Kristen Wiig) despises her, but when in need of help, she hides Bernadette in her house before she escapes to Antarctica.  

After it turns out that Bernadette is in danger of identity theft, she is advised to admit herself to a psychiatric facility. As it usually happens, the woman claims she is in perfect health and escapes. The character is unable to cope with the pressure of  society and her husband – so she leaves. The film is a definite example of a person who is brought to the brink of an emotional breakdown and does one the thing she can do – letting go. As the plot progresses, the audience perceives the actual level of psychological damage that rests on Bernadette. Another factor that influences the woman’s well-being is the artistic drought of twenty years. The lack of inspiration can drive a person’s mind to a critical point. The inability to express herself by creating an architectural masterpiece only exacerbates her crisis.  

One person whose mission is to love and support her – doesn’t seem to do that. Elgie, too involved in his technology company, doesn’t notice his wife’s state of mind. He’s blind, to the point where the FBI ends up knocking on his door. When concerned about the family’s finances, only then does he organize the intervention. Elgie doesn’t turn out to be a great husband. Even Bee has to make him look for her mom. If it weren’t for their daughter, Bernadette might have been missing until she decided to come back. 

The family dynamic in the Fox house isn’t helpful for Bernadette’s mental health in the slightest. As mentioned above, she does everything in the house while the husband works from the moment he wakes up until he comes back in the late evening. Bee suspects that something is wrong with Bernadette and, after her mom disappears, she realizes that the older woman reached the point of breaking. It’s human nature to break sometimes, but it’s always better to prevent it on time. In Bernadette’s case, it seems as if she didn’t have anybody to help her with it. 

Where Did You Go, Bernadette?  is slow in certain moments and seldom drags. That, furthermore, doesn’t influence the plot. An exquisitely appointed cast masks any visible flaws. The main character, portrayed by Cate Blanchett makes the film funny and touching, sometimes at the same time. The Australian actress once again proves the extent of her phenomenal acting skills. An applause, too, for Emma Nelson. The 15-year-old actress debuted with this motion picture and -did an absolutely marvelous job. The well-crafted mother-daughter relationship created by two women was beyond fantastic.

As mentioned above, the film by Linklater isn’t for everybody. It also depends on what mood are you in when you’re about to watch the movie. However, if you want to watch a story about family and a woman who just needs a little break, you’re in for a good time. 

Where Did You Go, Bernadette? is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

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