How Richard Linklater's 'Where'd You Go, Bernadette' uses oddball architecture to reflect its heroine

Mark Olsen, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

A movie about a reclusive star architect rather obviously needs both a star and some pretty striking architecture.

For his adaptation of Maria Semple's 2012 novel "Where'd You Go, Bernadette," filmmaker Richard Linklater turned to actress Cate Blanchett, who crafted a playfully inscrutable seriocomic performance as the title character. For the architecture, Linklater turned to his longtime collaborator, production designer Bruce Curtis.

In the movie, Blanchett plays Bernadette Fox, a onetime star of the architecture community who, after a series of professional and personal setbacks, retreats from her career to live in Seattle with her husband, Elgie (Billy Crudup), who has a high-level job at Microsoft, and raise her teenage daughter, Bee (newcomer Emma Nelson). Having become increasingly eccentric and antisocial, picking needless battles with her neighbor Audrey (Kristen Wiig), Bernadette begins to break out of her shell while planning a family trip to Antarctica at Bee's insistence. Then Bernadette goes missing, and Elgie and Bee must trace her steps and track her down.

Curtis and Linklater first worked together on 2005's "Bad News Bears" and have steadily collaborated since, including such recent films as "Bernie," "Everybody Wants Some!!" and "Last Flag Flying." With its focus on architecture and design, "Where'd You Go, Bernadette," which opened nationwide on Friday, provided a rare opportunity for Curtis. "To date it was possibly the most creative that I've been able to be with Linklater," Curtis said via phone from Austin, Texas. "Every designer, you wait for projects like this where you can create an entire world, and that was a true thrill. The energy of the project was just so amazing.

"It was incredibly satisfying to see things come through the thought process to paper to real life," he added. "I do that every week, but it was extra special on this because everyone was so thoughtful and mindful of Bernadette's style, what would be in her world and what was on her mind."

"With this one, I said, 'OK Bruce, we're off to the races,'" said Linklater, also calling from Austin. "I mean, Bruce tends to be flamboyant and big. I'm more real. We balance each other kind of perfectly. So Bruce went to some other level here. I mean, the film required it."


Curtis looked to female architects such as Eileen Gray, Zaha Hadid and Denise Brown for inspiration. Semple's book and its descriptions of Bernadette's work also provided plenty of guidance.

"The book was so descriptive and had so many leads that we followed," said Curtis. "As a designer, when you're working off a book and a script at the same time, you don't want to disappoint the audience. You want to be mindful for the original form of the art, which was the book. So much really came from the Bible, the book, and out of Maria's head."

As revealed in the story, Bernadette's work as an architect featured creative reuse, such as her Beeber Bifocal House constructed from an old eyeglasses factory, or the Twenty Mile House, in which all materials were sourced from within 20 miles of the site.

This aspect of Bernadette's work particularly appealed to Linklater, who is himself an amateur architect.


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