The Annapurna film follows Bernadette Fox, a renowned architect known more for her misanthropic attitude and agoraphobia, who goes missing prior to a family trip to Antarctica.
Where'd You Go Bernadette is among the horde of book-to-film adaptations hitting the big screen this year, but the Maria Semple novel of the same name presented a unique challenge for director and co-writer Richard Linklater: a narrative driven by elements like emails, letters and texts.
That didn't phase Linklater; the book had already "got its hooks" into him.
"It's exhilarating — the language, the humor, the characters, everything about it," he told The Hollywood Reporter at a New York screening of Bernadette on Monday night. "It's so witty and lively. We just had to imagine a cinematic form for it. And it was a storytelling challenge, too. But it was a fun process."
Finding the right person to play Bernadette — an anxiety-ridden mother who was once an award-winning architect — wasn't easy, either. Even now, Linklater can't think of many people who fit the role. Except for Cate Blanchett.
"I always say to portray a genius, you need a genius. If you're going to make a movie about Beethoven, the actor you get to play him better be a genius," he said. "Most people aren't and it never works. Bernadette, a MacArthur genius — I think people believe Cate."
Blanchett described herself as "a huge Maria Semple fan" at the screening. According to costume designer Kari Perkins, Blanchett's signature sunglasses in the film are duplicates of the pair Semple actually owned when she moved to Seattle, where the story — which was inspired by Semple's hatred of the city — is set.
To honor the book's version of Bernadette, Blanchett said she wanted to maintain her "sense of isolation and desperation."
"the need to please, but she's also so full of disgust for the rest of the world because she's so full of disgust for herself," Blanchett told THR. "Then there's all these strange and ened relationships that she has with the mothers at the school, with the neighbors, with the virtual assistant, all of those quite remote and strange relationships, I thought were very important to carry through."
One of the story's most prominent relationships is between Bernadette and her 15-year-old daughter, Bee, played by newcomer Emma Nelson in the film.
Off-screen, Nelson was able to establish a repertoire with Blanchett that helped solidify their cinematic chemistry.
"She gave me the same respect that she would've given an actor with 20 films and I really appreciated that," Nelson said.
For Linklater, Nelson was just as good of a fit as Blanchett.
"She's awesome. Some people were like, 'Oh, she hasn't done a movie.' I said, 'No, she's gonna be fine,'" he said. "She's so smart; so confident. I knew she would be great."
Beyond Bernadette's connection to her daughter, she also sets out to reconnect with herself — or more accurately, the person she was before she became a wife and a mom.
"A lot of people say you can't do it all, but I totally believe you can do it all," said producer Ginger Sledge. "When you're trying to balance and do everything, sometimes it recharges you — kind of like the Energizer bunny, you just recharge over and over and it keeps you going — but if you stop, you're in trouble. Things kind of just plateau out, so you've got to keep going. And when you keep going, you kind of thrive on yourself."
Richard Linklater writes in a short essay published on The Guardian that he’s still experiencing PTSD from filming “Dazed and Confused.” The director’s coming-of-age movie is considered one of the defining American independent films of the 1990s, and it made stars out of young actors like Matthew McConaughey and Parker Posey. While the film has become a stoner classic that many young viewers idolize, Linklater writes that was not his original intention.
“I thought the 1970s sucked,” Linklater writes. “‘Dazed’ was supposed to be an anti-nostalgic movie. But it's like trying to make an anti-war movie - just by depicting it, you make it look fun. I wanted to do a realistic teen movie - most of them had too much drama and plot but teenage life is more like you're looking for the party, looking for something cool, the endless pursuit of something you never find, and even if you do, you never quite appreciate it.”
Linklater’s original plan for “Dazed and Confused” was for it to entirely take place in a car with four guys driving around aimlessly as they “bust mailboxes to ZZ Top.” The director ultimately decided to explore more points of view and wrote the first draft in a month. “We leapfrogged about 30 other projects that were in development at Universal,” Linklater writes.
Working with Universal Pictures “Dazed” was released by the studio’s indie division Gramercy Pictures proved to be something of a nightmare for Linklater, who writes, “I still have PTSD when I think of how difficult the shoot was.” Universal president Tom Pollock had the studio on high alert over Linklater after fearing the director would make an “arty, jerk-offski movie” like “Slacker.” Linklater’s love for improvisation on set also worried the studio.
“Improvisation was one of the things that made the studio nervous, but it added a lot of additional humour to ‘Dazed and Confused,'” Linklater writes. “Not everyone picks up on the vibe of what you're trying to do, though. There was one actor, Shawn Andrews, who wasn't exactly rocking and rolling with the rest of the cast. So I switched things around to expand Matthew McConaughey's role instead.”
In post-production, Linklater says Universal gave him “soulless corporate accommodations.” The director believes this was an intentional attempt to wear him down. “People seemed to really enjoy the screenings, but then their ratings on certain aspects were always lower than executives thought they should be, which confirmed [the studios’] fears that I had made an art film,” he continued, “They wanted me to put in modern music - or reshoot. But I didn't take any of their dumb ideas.”
“Dazed and Confused” was released in September 1993 and grossed $8 million on a $6.9 million budget. Linklater writes that he didn’t make a penny off the movie because he waived nearly all of his rights on the film to pay for the soundtrack.
“I don't think it's my best movie, but it represents a rite of passage for the ‘busters,’ the end of the baby-boom generation,” Linklater concludes. “I also enjoy people who weren't even born then liking the film. It tells you there's something about teenagedom that never changes.”
Next up for Linklater is this summer’s comedy “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” starring Cate Blanchett. Annapurna is releasing the film in theaters August 16.