It bears little relation to Frank Perry‘s Diary of a Mad Housewife except for the “mad” part, and even then it’s a different kind — very Seattle-ish and 21st Century, extremely fickle and antsy and yet, for me, diverting and almost fun in a contact-high kind of way.
Bernadette was originally slated to open on 5.11.18, and then was bumped four times (11.19.18, 3.22.19, 8.9.19, 8.16.19). That’s always a sign that something’s wrong, but guess what? Linklater’s film is spotty and imperfect, but it half-works. Make that two-thirds.
This is largely because of Cate Blanchett’s nervous, neurotic, irritated performance as Bernadette Fox, a frustrated ex-architect who’s floundering and miserable because she’s given up her drafting table. As her friend Paul Jellinek (Larry Fishburne) says, “People like you must create…if not, you become a menace to society.”
And because she’s become an agoraphobe. Because she despises conventional living and the Seattle mothers sorority whom she’s expected to pal around with. She loves her daughter Bee (Emma Nelson), who’s extremely loyal and bright, and is on mildly ambivalent terms with her software-genius millionaire husband, Elgie (Billy Crudup).
Bernadette is a prickly pear (along with Frank Lloyd Wright, Howard Roark, Frank Gehry and every other architect worth his or her salt) but I understood her — I recognized a kindred spirit. And I honestly liked and related to her more when she was agitated and dismissive and hoarding medication than when she was smiling and creatively fulfilled and hugging Elgin and Bee during the South Pole finale.
Because in a way Bernadette is a cousin of Randall P. McMurphy — she’s been wounded over an architectural debacle that happened in Los Angeles, and she really hates conventional mindsets and people who cluck-cluck and go along, and there’s just no peace in her heart when it comes to most manifestations of middle-class normality.
That aside I didn’t believe that Bernadette and family would live in a 19th century, vine-covered Edgar Allen Poe mansion. Nobody would allow that much flora to cover and in fact smother their home. No architect would allow that much rot and ruination to affect his/her living space.
And it made no sense at all for a landscape architect to advise that vines and bushes be removed from a hilly area in the middle of Seattle’s rainy season.
In the book Crudup’s husband had a brief, regrettable affair with his administrative assistant (Zoë Chao). That’s either been taken out or was never shot.
Linklater uses a YouTube fan documentary about Bernadette to convey her career history and how things gradually went wrong, etc. The doc might not be an add-on that was shot after initial principal photography in 2017, but it feels like one.
It’s odd the way the film immediately undercuts the mystery element (i.e., where did Bernadette run off to?) from the very beginning. Why use this title if you’re going to explode the mystery element with the very first shot?
Bernadette definitely feels like it’s been fiddled and faddled with over the last two years. God knows what steps were taken to try and fix the problems, but I was very surprised to discover that while it’s less than perfect, it also isn’t a train wreck. It’s not half bad.
Colleague: “Oh, God, we disagree on this! I found the whole thing annoying and unconvincing.”
HE reply: “It is annoying and unconvincing to some extent, but for a film that has been treated by its own maker and distributor as a problem film that has seen its release date bumped four times, I found it acute and pointed and better than I expected in some ways. And Blanchett really understands the idea of a manic malcontent bothered by brilliance.”