That means we have to take the title metaphorically: what has become of Bernadette’s creative drive, and does she stand a chance of getting it back? In the present, she’s something of a recluse, twitchy and high-minded as Blanchett’s characters tend to be, viewing the outside world as a constant threat (her fringe and sunglasses, used as a shield, give her a resemblance to Anna Wintour).
Bernadette’s occasional manic tirades suggest an excess of mental activity rather than the reverse. This is a quality she shares with Blanchett, who is also capable of misapplied energy when too little is required of her, but here finds a role that gives full scope to her intelligence, irony and warmth.
The film has a clean, mainstream look, making sometimes touristic use of Seattle locations (such as the revolving restaurant atop the famous Space Needle). There’s an element of cornball Hollywood sentiment, something Linklater has never been afraid of. But the conventions are bent in bold ways, particularly the rule which says the premise of a story has to be spelled out from the word go.
Here, it’s a while before we even get a firm idea of Bernadette’s former profession (some of the exposition comes via a video essay within the film, a neat device I can’t remember seeing elsewhere). Certain subplots, such as a billboard Bernadette has commissioned to taunt a neighbour (Kristen Wiig), are never completely clarified: this could be taken as a weakness, or as a variant on the way Linklater’s characters digress from one fanciful notion to another in films such as Before Sunrise or Waking Life.
Ultimately, this is a film about creativity, and the idea that the self is necessarily a work in progress. These themes have preoccupied Linklater through his whole career – and while Where’d You Go, Bernadette may not be one of his peaks, it shows he’s still bent on approaching them in new ways.