Cate Blanchett (right) in Where’d You Go, Bernadette (Photo: United Artists)

(SUMMER MOVIE WRAP 2019: Best Film, Biggest Disappointment, Top Moneymakers, Worst Remake, and more! For a look at the highlights and low points of the cinema season, go here.)

★★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Richard Linklater
STARS Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup

As long as everyone can keep track of Bernadette, Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a savvy and satisfying seriocomedy. It’s when its protagonist goes missing that the film heads south — both physically and metaphorically.

A rare semi-stumble for writer-director Richard Linklater (Boyhood, the Before trilogy), Where’d You Go, Bernadette is an adaptation of Maria Semple’s bestselling novel about an agoraphobic architect who hasn’t worked in 20 years. Instead, Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) has remained at home with her neuroses, doting on her teenage daughter Bee (a winsome turn by Emma Nelson in her film debut) while driving her loving husband Elgie (Billy Crudup) to distraction. Her days are also filled with sending rambling messages to her assistant in India and engaging in property battles with Audrey (Kristen Wiig), her neighbor in a swanky Seattle suburb.

Clearly, Bernadette is a mess — and an ofttimes infuriating one, at that — but the movie is honest enough to portray none of its characters as either hero(ine) or villain. Instead, there are instances when we side with Bernadette and rail against Audrey — and vice versa. Elgie is a good guy and the voice of reason, but there are moments when we wish he could see Bernadette as we do. It’s only when Bernadette’s former mentor Paul Jellinek (Laurence Fishburne) states that an artist who no longer creates becomes a “menace to society” that the theme starts to come into focus — and the movie begins to veer out of control.

The intriguing character dynamics that informed the first half of the picture disappear as thoroughly as Bernadette during the second part. Faced with mounting pressures as well as a psychiatrist (Judy Greer) who thinks maybe she should be committed, Bernadette hightails it to Antarctica. From here, the movie devolves into a dreary drama, as Bernadette enjoys the sights down south while her husband and daughter piece together the mystery surrounding her MIA status. The Seattle sound has been replaced with Antarctic inertia, and an initially warm and inviting movie ultimately offers little more than a big chill.

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