“Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” movie review

If you loved Blanchette in her award winning role in Blue Jasmine, then you will love her in Richard Linklater’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Once again, Blanchette takes on the demanding role of someone struggling with an inner turmoil brought on by losing one’s identity. By no means is Bernadette the same character as Jasmine, but there are many similarities; however, these similarities are expressed in vastly different ways, which makes the story relatable and thought-provoking. Whereas this film has not been critically received nearly as well as Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, after watching it for myself, I absolutely loved it. Is it as strong a picture as Blue Jasmine? No. But it is still a film that I feel creative and academic persons will connect with because often the most creative or intelligent people can experience bouts of identity crisis, mania, and depression when he or she is not in the process of creating something for the world to see. Whether that world is as small as your hometown, your network on social media, or the global stage, there is a catharsis that is experienced when crafting something new. Take away that creative outlet and you may as well remove an arm or leg. Furthermore, destroy that which one has poured his or her soul into, then you metaphorically kill that creative person. The creation is an extension of the soul of the creator. I imagine that my fellow creatives and academics will also be able to identify with Bernadette much in the same manner as did I. Linklater’s film is an existential exploration of the creative genius when the very foundation of that genius is rocked off its foundation. There are many metaphorical visualizations of this concept in the film, including the catalyst that launches Bernadette into her acute downward spiral–the removal of that which was holding everything together. Perhaps the story execution lacked the precision that this plot truly required to be exemplary, but there is a strong message therein coupled with Blanchette’s excellent performance that makes Where’d You Go Bernadette? a thought-provoking movie to watch.

Former architect Bernadette Fox seems to have it all — a beautiful home in Seattle, a successful and loving husband, and a brilliant teenage daughter who’s about to attend boarding school. When Bernadette suddenly disappears without a trace, her concerned family sets off on an exciting adventure to solve the mystery of where she might have gone.

If you’re searching for a human movie, then you you have found the right one. The experience of watching this movie sticks with you long after the credits role. Not being familiar with the book, I cannot comment on the similarities and differences; fortunately, this allows me to evaluate this as a movie without influence from knowledge of the book. While most of the characters are mostly flat, the character of Bernadette is complex, vulnerable, and quite human. Despite being an architectural genius of on the level of Frank Lloyd Wright–something that most of us cannot identify with–we identify with her because of the struggle to manage personal and professional life when we’ve lost our way. The title Where’d You Go, Bernadette? works in two ways. (1) during the second and third acts of the movie, Bernadette’s family is literally searching for her and (2) after learning the news that her masterpiece house was bought simply to be destroyed, she ceased to be herself and became a new, even more eccentric and reclusive person. Essentially she took on a new identity, which posits the question, “where did she go?” The movie is a journey for Bernadette to find herself, and of course for her family to find her. Further evidence of the successful visualization of internal conflict, is when Bernadette removes the blackberry bushes in full knowledge that they will make way for a landslide, even though her neighbor wants the bushes gone. Just as the blackberry bushes were the only thing keeping the hillside together, the 20-Mile House was the primary component that kept Bernadette together. When it was destroyed, so was she.

Where this movie fails is in the adaptation from novel to screen. And I am not talking about commitment to details and such. Novels are internally driven whereas movies are visually driven. Sometimes there are novels that explore inner turmoil to such a degree that it makes visualizing it for the screen difficult to achieve. Without having read the novel, I cannot comment fully on why most of the characters are flat and the much of the dialogue is vapid, but my educated guess is that the novel explores the psychology of each character to a greater extent than a movie allows for. Where this movie excels is the performance delivered by Blanchette as the title character Bernadette. Whether quiet or a raving lunatic, she maintains a powerful screen presence that draws the audience in to the heart of the story. There is an unapologetic authenticity in Blanchette’s performance that feels fresh and powerful. It’s a command performance that should not be overlooked. Through her character of Bernadette, we witness just how complex depression, mania, and anxiety are. And not just how complex they are for the individual burdened with them, but for those around the individual.

I’m not naive to the movie’s shortcomings, but there is so much that I find was delivered with excellence that it helps to make up for the mostly weak screenwriting. I believe that the character of Bernadette offers us a fascinating character to explore as she offers great opportunities for relatability. Perhaps we aren’t genius architects, but many of us know what it’s like to see our creations destroyed or being prohibited by internal or external forces from creating.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa and teaches high school TV/Film production. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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“Last Flag Flying” film review

An all-star cast takes audiences on a memory journey of war, loss, friendship, and patriotism as genuine human emotions are dealt with through comedy and grief. Amazon Studios hits a homer again with the release of Last Flag Flying distributed by Lionsgate. Now in select theaters, writer-director Richard Linklater crafts an incredible motion picture that organically deals with the loss of a loved one during a time of war through the stages of grief and irreverent comedy between friends. While this film is currently flying under the radar, don’t allow that to dissuade you from watching this incredible war film. I cannot remember the last time that I saw a film that felt so genuine. Watching this film, I truly felt like a fly on the wall, watching a Vietnam vet deal with the loss of his son and reconnecting with some of the closest friends he ever had in his life. Last Flag Flying is a subgenre of war movies that places the camera at a distance from the characters and allows them to mourn and laugh on screen without interference from censors and other outsiders. While not a conventional war movie, the topic of war is found underlying many diegetic components. Dialogue driven, this film provides social commentary on patriotism, God, and friendship. Bring your listening ear to this movie because the context of the tough subject matter contains subtle yet powerful messages that highlight otherwise unstated emotions. Sometimes the best way to go through the stages of grief is to throw caution to the wind and allow humor to work its powerful remedy.

Three Vietnam war veterans reunite for a different kind of mission that forces them to deal with the present and the past. When Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carrel) arrives at the dive bar that belongs to former comrade Sal Nealson (Bryan Cranston), he asks his Marine brother to go with him without naming where. Sal drives Shepherd to a old country church now pastored by their Marine brother Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne). When Shepherd doesn’t touch his pale cobbler, the group realizes there is something wrong. It’s then the Shepherd reveals that his son was killed outside of Baghdad, and wants his two Marine brothers to go with him to bury his son at Arlington. Along the journey, the three former military comrades are forced to come to terms with their shared past that continues to shape their present lives by discussing tough topics such as grief, God, war, honesty, and addiction.

The sheer storytelling beauty of Last Flag Flying is found in the solid writing made evident through the excellent direction and A-list cast (and one surprising cameo that I won’t mention because it will detract from the brief but powerful screen presence). While it may appear like a somber tragedy on the surface, beneath that surface of sadness beats the heart of dark but respectful comedy that takes audiences on the memory journey right along side the characters. War movies about the loss of loved ones is not something new; but this film allows the characters to go through the stages of grief in organic ways that paints a motion picture of how human these emotions are. Human. Truly human. At times, there are no holds barred when three very different voices all converge on the same topic. You have the grieving father, a reverend, and foul-mouthed barkeep discussing everything, just as friends in real life often do. In many ways, these three former military comrades could not be any different in their present states; but at one time, they were inseparable and very much alike. While the focus of the film could have been on Shepherd’s loss or the politics of war, the focus is clearly on what makes us human and how one genuinely has to deal with loss due to war. Not that discussions of politics and religion are not found in this film–they are–but the discussions and arguments between these friends are used as tools to comment on the human condition. Because we never see combat footage, the expositional dialogue about war and politics adds incredible weight and a little mystery to the events in the film.

Before you begin to think that Linklater uses flashbacks to connect the present to the past, think again. While that would have been the easy, lazy way of accomplishing that task, he chooses to connect the present to the past through exceptional exposition between characters that prompt the audience to engage their own emotions to connect the pieces of the story together. Because we never shift between the past and present, the main story is always the main story. When constructing strong characters as we have this this film, it is the responsibility of the actors (though proper direction) to not allow the actor to get in the way of the character. Honestly, there are times that I see the individual actors eclipse the respective character, but most of the time, the audience will see the characters themselves throughout the dark comedy. The cinematography is simple, but perfect for the story within this motion picture. Linklater uses no gimmicks to tell this thought provoking story. The movie has an intimate feel to it because you can likely identify with one of the lead or supporting characters, especially when they are talking about “Disneyland” in Vietnam (you’ll just have to watch to understand why that’s in quotes). So incredibly genuine. No pretense about any of the characters in the film.

The content of this film truly reflects the tenor of the times in which we live. Topics of war, politics, and religion seem to be inundating us from all angles. It takes a special film to deal with each of those respectfully, candidly, and effectively. The trifecta of voices in this film allows the thought provoking conversations to transcend the screen and enter the minds of the audience. While working through his grief, there were times that Shepherd could have gone on an anti-military or anti-American rant, but he never speaks a negative word against anyone, though he is sometimes in immense pain. Patriotism, God, and the human condition are shown and discussed in quite unconventional and maybe even controversial ways; yet, the manner in which these topics are discussed, as it relates to Shepherd’s loss, are absolutely perfect. In a seemingly binary world where you are either a red-blooded patriot or you’re anti-American, with no room for nuance or discussion, this film provides the platform to begin to realize that we are first human before we take sides.

Although I did not care for Linklater’s Boyhood, I can honestly tell you that this film is one that you don’t want to miss. Whether you are in a military family or not, this film offers a glimpse into a world that many people have to face on a daily basis. The genuine, organic approach to the hard topics in this film allows the humanity to shine through. Not speaking for ALL veterans, but the vets that were in the screening last night had high praise for the film. And the rest of us had many positive remarks and feedback for the screener hosts.