“Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” a Richard Linklater-directed adaptation of Maria Semple’s incredibly popular novel of the same name, is the story of a brilliant architect who hasn’t worked in a spell going through the mother of all mid-life crises.
She has become an enemy to her neighbor, a stranger to her husband and an object of extreme worry to her daughter. So ... she bounces. Just up and leaves. And the chase is on (sort of).
» Related: Linklater explains how he made "Boyhood"
The movie stars Cate Blanchett as the title character, Billy Crudup as her husband and newcomer Emma Nelson as their daughter, Bee. It opens in theaters Aug. 16.
When I mention to Austin-based Linklater the parallels between architecture and filmmaking — dreaming up a rather complicated thing from scratch, working with collaborators, drawing from your influences without trying to build the exact same thing — he notes that he thinks in architectural terms all the time when putting a film together. That's not even mentioning that he’s designed some structures of his own.
“I’ve been lucky to have been able to build some buildings,” Linklater says of work he's done on his Central Austin property, “and I kind of feel my way through it, kind of the way I make a movie. It’s a very, very similar process. There’s the obvious metaphor of the blueprint equaling the script, but both processes have so many decisions along the way, and the final touches can be the most crucial.”
Linklater became attached to "Bernadette" in early 2015, about two years after Megan Ellison at Annapurna Pictures acquired the rights to adapt the novel.
“Megan gave me the book to read, and it really resonated with me,” Linklater says. The themes presented themselves quickly. “It reminded me of my own mom and the intensity of mother-daughter relationships. I have three daughters and two sisters, and I have had a front row seat for that. There’s also a lot about long-term relationships and the notion of an artist not practicing their art.”
Blanchett joined up in late 2015, with Vince and Holly Gent Palmo working on a script with Linklater.
“The three of us talked about it forever,” Linklater says. “It was a challenging adaptation.”
But it also dawned on him that while many of his early movies involved working out how one is young (“Dazed and Confused,” “Slacker”), many of his recent films explore how one ages (“Boyhood,” “Before Midnight,” Last Flag Flying” and now “Bernadette”).
» More movie reviews: ‘The Kitchen’ is like watching a devil’s food cake slowly catch fire
“Dealing with parenting, dealing with middle age, being in this new phase in life, that's four out of my last five movies,” Linklater says. (College tale “Everybody Wants Some,” from 2016, is the exception.) “I clearly have this on my mind.”
It helped that Blanchett was attached to the movie during the writing process; Linklater could write with her voice in mind, a luxury one rarely has when in the screenwriting stage.
“What I admire most about Cate is her work ethic,” Linklater says. “If anyone in this project had the right to be a big diva, it was Cate. She was the total opposite. She loves to rehearse. She’d show up, and we’d work all day discovering this character.”
This movie has been a long time coming. Originally set for a spring 2018 release, it was pushed to fall of that year, then moved twice in this year. This gave Linklater and longtime editor Sandra Adair a long (and welcome) time to cut the movie down to a trim hour and 47 minutes.
It dawns on Linklater that it took him the same amount of time to make "Bernadette" as it took him to build a certain structure on his property.
“Both were four-year projects," he says. "It’s pretty intoxicating, building something from nothing, but sometimes you have to be very patient.”