With Cate Blanchett, Emma Nelson, Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig.
What a pleasure to take my mind off what the president has done today to bring our country to the brink of disaster. This movie answers my quest for a diversion about talented people getting to create things that are important.
Bernadette (Cate Blanchett) is an architect who quit practicing under discouraging circumstances twenty years prior to the time of the movie. She and her techno guru husband Elgie (Billy Crudup) and teen daughter, Bee (Emma Nelson), live in Seattle, home of Microsoft and Amazon. Elgie is working on an artificial intelligence product called Samantha 2. Bee faces what to do about high school, having just aced eighth grade at her progressive private school. They live in a repurposed but extremely deteriorated former reform school for girls next to a pristine suburban home maker, Audrey, played deliciously by Kristen Wiig. It isn’t stated, but Bernadette probably had grand plans on how to renovate the oversize building into a suitable home, but they never came to fruition, and you see the leaking pipes, overgrown brambles. Even the dog suffers, having been trapped inside a confessional that requires a rescue with a ladder.
Cinematography points to the isolation of Bernadette, out on the sea, alone, surrounded by ice floes. She is always alone, unless with Crudup and daughter, in a very fancy car (which is alienating– how many moms bring their daughters to school in a Jaguar? How obnoxious!). Bernadette prefers to talk to her online assistant, a non responsive though major character.
The script includes certain very tender scenes, which veer on the sentimental, for instance Bee and Bernadette singing together in their car. In order for us to learn the back story of Bernadette’s isolation, there is too much of a catch up dialogue in a scene with Laurence Fishbourne, her former colleague. This very one sided conversation ends with the question: “Are you done?” I wanted to shout Amen!
Bernadette is a benighted member of a very white collar profession, a genius who got a grant from Mac Arthur, then faded away. The privilege is earned, but still, it is sort of tiresome to watch such privilege. Bee, the girl who was long awaited, who Bernadette wanted for so long, should have been the narrator, but as a result of the star power of Cate Blanchett, who admittedly commands the screen, every inch of it, at all times, takes over, and changes the point of view of the story that made the book compelling. We always know where Bernadette is. It becomes a bit of a yawn to see the plot play out with a happy ending.
However, there are some funny bits. For instance, dueling suburban stay at home moms with dueling hair cuts. Kristen Wiig is perfect as the foil, a “gnat” deemed annoying and unimportant to her superior neighborhood’s genius who dominates, with her unruly blackberry rambles.
Did Bernadette know that removing them would cause the collapse of the whole bank, resulting in major damage to Audrey’s house? This part of the satire is very well preserved from the book, and works.
Elgie is a bit of a cipher until he stages his intervention to cure Bernadette of her mental illness. Speaking of which, mental illness is no joke. If Bernadette is genuinely mentally ill, should we be thinking that her escape into the Antarctic is a big laugh riot? Cate Blanchett knows how to command a picture and this one is no exception. She dominates the movie to the point where it is not appropriate.
Bee is lonely for her mom. She misses her the instant she goes missing. Scenes of mother and daughter seem authentic, though when they come, it is at the expense of others, which makes you wonder, is this the only value Bernadette has taught her daughter, that she is superior to others?
Because there is a thick comedic vein running through the movie, I didn’t mind that all the misdeeds went unpunished, that Audrey turned out to be capable of extreme discretion, that the family remained intact. It is a refreshing thing to be wooed by a comedy with half a brain that assumes you would deem a vulgar musician a villain. As a fan of the book, though, I found this adaptation disappointing.