This week’s Book Reviews From the Vault will be different as I will be reviewing the movie version of Where’d You Go Bernadette. After 10 months of release delays, my book club was able to see it around this time last year. Was it worth it? Let’s find out!
WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS!
About two weeks ago, I saw Where’d You Go Bernadette with some members of the book club that I facilitate. We had been looking forward to seeing it ever since we heard the announcement that book by Maria Semple was going to be turned into a film last year. After 10 months of release delays, I felt that the movie was worth the wait even with its differences from the book since it stuck to the core of the story.
Directed by Richard Linklater, Where’d You Go Bernadette is about a woman who was once a famous architect. After years of sacrificing her career to take care of her husband and daughter, she tries to reconnect with her creativity by going an adventure that makes her and her family realize her truth worth.
For those who are familiar with the book, it is easy to see the shift in perspective. The novel focuses more on Bernadette’s daughter Bee as she tries to find her mom through various letters and documents. In contrast, the movie emphasizes the title character so much that its opening scene actually reveals where she had gone to. In other words, a more accurate title for the film version of Where’d You Go Bernadette is What Made You Go Here Bernadette. Say what you want about that, but I did not have a problem with that because the film shows what led the titular character to go on her journey straight from the horse’s mouth. Letters and documents can only reveal so much.
Another major difference between the book and the movie is the absence or reduction of some subplots in the latter. The subplots that were eliminated were Elgie – Bernadette’s workaholic techie husband – getting his secretary Soo-Lin pregnant – and Audrey – Bernadette’s “nemesis” – getting in trouble at the hotel that she stays at after the blackberry incident. Even though I did not mind them in the book, I was glad that Linklater did away with them. They made the plot more complicated than it should be, especially the Elgie/Soo-Lin saga. Elgie is a good husband to Bernadette and tries to help, yet he simply does not realize how creatively deprived she is. Additionally, the subplot of Bee going to Choate – a prestigious boarding school – is reduced in the movie. In the book, Bee eventually goes to Choate, yet because of her mom’s disappearance, she becomes so depressed that it affects her attitude and grades. While it does add some nuance to her relationship to Bernadette, it again makes the story far more complicated than necessary. That is why in the movie, Bee simply does not want to go after some careful consideration.
The primary complaints about the movie revolve around three things that I am not bothered by: the pacing, Linklater’s creativity, and the fake YouTube documentary. To begin with, reviewers quibble about how slow it was in the beginning. I personally did not mind this because a good chunk of it shows how eccentric Bernadette can be, the bond between her and Bee, and her relationship to other people. Moreover, people seem to agree that this is Linklater’s least creative effort. I understand where they are coming from since he directed Boyhood, which was shot over a 12-year period, and he plans to do the same thing for the movie adaptation of Merrily We Roll Along, just over a 20-year period. To them, Where’d You Go Bernadette is not the most ground-breaking film from him. Maybe it comes from the fact that I have not seen his other films, but I am not worked up by this because there is a lot of pressure to be creative in Hollywood. It is fine to do something simple every now and then. Plus, there is something quite innovative in Bernadette, and that is the faux YouTube documentary. The video serves as exposition for Bernadette’s architectural career, but people have complained about how it felt like they were in another movie while watching that part. I admire the documentary’s authenticity, yet at times, the main film can lose itself through this video. Despite that, it knows when to get back to the main story.
Nevertheless, the one main problem that I have with this movie is how everything is neatly resolved. Conflicts like the one between Bernadette and Audrey are naturally played out, yet they are solved when the script calls for it. Hollywood has always done this, so that does not annoy me. What irritates me is that the main story is supposed to be necessarily complicated. The reality is that not every problem is neatly tied up like strings on a present.
Overall, despite its alterations from the book, the movie version of Where’d You Go Bernadette is still good and faithful to the novel, for it focuses on the main story. I would recommend watching the film to anyone who is interested, especially to people who have read the book. Not every movie that is based on a novel is going to be 100% faithful, but as long as one sticks to the core of the story, films like Where’d You Go Bernadette are worth watching.
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