Maria Semple’s ‘Bernadette’ on the big screen
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘Where’d You Go Bernadette’
When: Opening Friday, Aug. 16, 2:35, 5:10 & 7:45 p.m.
Where: Isis Theatre
More info: bernadette.film
The film adaptation of Maria Semple’s best-selling, critically acclaimed, locally adored novel “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” opens in theaters nationwide this weekend, and at Semple’s hometown Isis Theatre in Aspen.
The comic 2012 novel about the title character’s disappearance just before a planned trip to Antarctica with her tech guru husband and precocious daughter gave readers a brilliant anti-hero in Bernadette Fox and her memorable rants about Seattle, competitive parenting and the new convention of sneezing into one’s sleeve.
It also was a creative and commercial breakthrough for Semple, an Aspen native who had previously written for television shows like “Mad About You” and “Arrested Development.”
Oscar winner Cate Blanchett plays Bernadette in the film, with Billy Crudup as her husband and a supporting cast including Kristin Wiig, Laurence Fishburne and Zoe Chao. Behind the camera is one of the most acclaimed living directors in Richard Linklater — the auteur behind “Dazed and Confused” and “Boyhood” — and the super-producer Megan Ellison, working from a script by Linklater, Holly Gent and Vincent Palmo Jr.
“I just love the book,” Linklater said in an interview included in the film’s press kit. “It’s such rich material. … Bernadette is such a fascinating person. A strong female, obviously, but I think she speaks for so many people.”
It’s hard to imagine a better creative team to bring Semple’s book to the big screen. Yet the film has had a rocky road to theaters. Originally slated for release last fall during Oscar season, it’s been moved back three times until landing on this inauspicious mid-August slot, a signal that it has fallen short of its sky-high expectations, while early reviews have been less than enthusiastic.
But audiences will have their say this weekend. And fans of the book — and certainly all of the Semple faithful here in Aspen — are eager to see for themselves how it translates. It opens nationwide on Friday and at the Isis Theatre in Aspen.
Ellison, the young producer of prestige films like “Phantom Thread” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” gave a copy of Semple’s book to Linklater years ago and suggested he might like to direct a film adaptation. She also noted that Blanchett would make for an ideal Bernadette.
“Once that was in my head, I read it with Cate in mind and I could never get off that,” Linklater said. “I was thinking, ‘She is the only person and the only performer in the English language currently, worldwide, who could pull this off potentially.’ Once you get this in your head there’s no other way to see it.”
Semple was thrilled by the idea of shaping a cinematic Bernadette with the actress who has memorably played Katherine Hepburn, Bob Dylan, the title character of “Blue Jasmine” and Galadriel in “The Lord of the Rings.”
“It was so fantastic to hear that Cate Blanchett was bringing Bernadette to life,” Semple said in a press kit interview. “The thing that got me most excited was all the intelligence that I knew she would bring to the role. And that you could tell there was just something wicked about her in the best possible way.”
When Blanchett signed on, Semple went to meet her to discuss the character. She brought along a pair of sunglasses — which she’d worn for years, and on which Bernadette’s ever-present oversized sunglasses were based — as a gift.
“I thought: ‘What do you give to Cate Blanchett, who you know has everything?’” Semple said in a press kit interview. “So, I took the prescription out of my dark glasses, put plain dark lenses in them and gave them to her. I said, ‘Here’s a little talisman. This is where it all started, these are literally my dark glasses that I’ve had for 10 years and I want you to have them.’”
The actress held onto the eyewear and used them throughout filming.
“I pictured her keeping them at best, throwing them away at worst,” Semple said. “But she insisted that that’s what she would wear for the movie. … It will be something that really is almost the most special thing to me about the movie. These reviled dark glasses that I wore all over Seattle when I was writing the book are now on Cate Blanchett, the actual pair.”
The character was irresistible for Blanchett.
“Maria Semple, and I think Rick in his screenplay, have written something that is hilarious in its accuracy, but also quite painful and often embarrassing,” Blanchett said.
And this likely won’t be the last Semple adaptation. Semple’s 2016 novel “Today Will Be Different,” which is set partly in Aspen, also was acquired by HBO, with Julia Roberts attached to star.
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