Sometimes idiosyncratic directors do surprisingly accessible and moving work when paired with more structured material and a strong and willing star, and so it is with Richard Linklater and "Where'd You Go, Bernadette."
Best known for meandering personal explorations like "Boyhood" and "Before Sunset," Linklater from time to time takes on more focused stories like the comic success "School of Rock," which starred an unstoppable Jack Black.
In "Bernadette," Linklater brings his manifest empathy for character to Maria Semple's smart and funny bestselling novel, with a splendid performance by Cate Blanchett in the title role added into the mix.
The film is not without its problems, but its focus on the power of a mother-daughter bond and what can befall creative people when they no longer create generates considerable emotion by the close.
Its bestselling status notwithstanding, as a modern day epistolary novel encompassing items like emails, invoices, police reports and school memos, "Bernadette" must have been a challenging book to adapt in film terms.
Linklater, who dedicates the movie to his late mother, Diane, "my Bernadette," was clearly drawn to the material and, cowriting with frequent collaborators Holly Gent and Vince Palmo, made it happen.
In this he was helped enormously by Blanchett, attached to the project before the director got involved, who burns up the airwaves as Bernadette Fox, a wonderfully eccentric, wildly verbal individual who both talks and thinks on a different level than everyone else .
When we first meet Bernadette, in the kitchen of her house in Seattle, she and her husband, Elgie (Billy Crudup), and precocious teenage daughter, Bee (newcomer Emma Nelson just nailing it), seem like the perfect modern family.
Here's Bee, all glee and enthusiasm, telling her parents that what she wants as a long-ago-promised reward for great grades is a family trip to Antarctica.