First Hit: Not everyone will appreciate and engage with this film, and I did.
This film runs and works on many different levels, and it only works because of the fantastic performance of Kate Blanchett as Bernadette Fox.
I laughed out loud numerous times and in a theater with only thirty people, often I was the only one. However, as the film went on, others seemed to join me as the amazing Blanchett showed us the complexity and depth of this character. One such scene is when she walks into a store, comments to the sales staff that they have a wonderful Chihuly, and the salesgirl is stupidly stunned because she has no idea what Bernadette is referring to. Because I’m aware of Chihuly’s work, I saw it right away and therefore was fully prepared, got her reference, and felt that I was in on the joke as it evolved.
Bernadette is married to Elgie (Billy Crudup), and they have got a young teen daughter named Bee Branch (Emma Nelson) who is getting ready to go to boarding school for her high school education. They are living in Seattle because Elgie created a technology product company that was purchased by Microsoft. He continues to work with Microsoft developing new high tech innovations.
Early in the film, we see that Bernadette’s quirky behavior and Elgie’s work patterns have created a deep divide in their relationship. The story also points out how close Bee Branch and her mother are. Dutifully Bernadette picks up Bee Branch from school each day, and this is where we learn how disliked Bernadette is with the other mothers when Audrey (Kristen Wiig) makes fun of her and her quirkiness to anyone who is within earshot. Audrey and Bernadette, who live next door to each other, have a relationship filled with animosity.
One of the quirky things Bernadette does is use her phone to dictate all the things she wants to be done. These commands go to a personal assistant in India. An example of the types of orders she gives the assistant include “I need a fishing vest,” and one arrives at her home via Amazon.com. There are other scenes with this assistant in which Bernadette is writing an antagonist email to someone, or requesting medication that will help her not get seasick, and making a dental appointment along with other life tasks.
Although she’s afraid of being around people and doesn’t like boats, Bernadette and Elgie agree to take Bee Branch to Antarctica as a middle school graduation reward.
One day while Bernadette is visiting the Seattle Library, a young woman comes up to her and asks to take a picture of her. Bernadette is clearly annoyed because of the intrusion, and the woman insists that Bernadette is her hero because of what she brought to the world of architecture. The woman mentions an online video of Bernadette’s career.
Arriving home, Bernadette grabs her computer and begins to watch the video, and we get the opportunity to know more about Bernadette’s artistic and creative architecture skills. For the audience, it is a moment where we begin to understand this fantastic creative person.
But it is when Bernadette meets up with one of her former associate architects (Laurence Fishburne) that Bernadette’s story spills, and I mean spills, out of her in one long rant. The power of her being able to talk to a fellow architect, who will understand her, is powerful. After a long spilling of her story, I loved it when Fishburne says something like, “is that it”? “Are you finished”?
He tells her what the audience is slowly learning, she needs to get back to work, creating. However, through her quirky life and other incidents, her husband has become increasingly concerned about her behavior. But it’s when the FBI contacts him and tells him that Bernadette’s online assistant is really a Russian operative who is going to steal all their money that he sets up an intervention.
How Bernadette resolves her struggles with her neighbor Audrey, her husband, and her internal demons is the rest of the film and story.
Blanchett is absolutely sublime as Bernadette. It is by far and away the best performance of the year by an actor (or actress). I loved how she pulled me into her madness and how I fully understood what she was going through. Wiig was outstanding as the long-time neighbor who tried to put on a superior face about her family life only to realize that there was envy about Bernadette and Bee Branch’s relationship. Nelson was outstanding as Bee Branch. I loved how her faith in her best friend, her mom, was successfully tested. Crudup was excellent as the distracted focused but loving husband and father. Holly Gent and Richard Linklater wrote an engrossing screenplay and were deeply rewarding and entertaining. Linklater also directed the film.
Overall: If you go to see this film, you’ve got to be ready to accept and dive into Bernadette from the beginning, because if you do, you’ll be rewarded in the end.