There’s nothing like a feel-good laugh-fest in a cool theater on a hot summer day. The new film version of Where’d You Go, Bernadette (Little, Brown and Company) by Maria Semple is on track to become a smash hit.
It’s a wry, comic tale of an agoraphobic mother, her tech-genius aka oblivious husband, and their precocious teenage daughter, who was promised anything if she got perfect grades. Dissuaded from a pony, Bee has instead decided she wants a family trip to Antarctica for her graduation gift.
“Ponies are cute, and maybe not as much trouble as we thought,” says an apprehensive Bernadette, who rarely leaves her Seattle home (panic attacks), and in the novel imagines being trapped on a cruise ship with “people who will uniquely annoy the hell out of me…or worse, they might turn their curiosity toward me, and expect pleasantry in return.”
Semple’s first novel, This One is Mine, is about a Hollywood wife who has it all but wants more. Where’d You Go Bernadette?, shortlisted for a Women’s Prize for Fiction, won the American Library Association’s Alex Award. Her 2016 novel, Today Will Be Different, is in development for an HBO limited series starring Julia Roberts as another Seattle housewife. (Semple lives in Seattle.)
Semple is also a screenwriter with credits for “Arrested Development,” “Beverly Hills, 90210,” “Mad About You,” “Suddenly Susan” and “Ellen.” Expect more tight and snappy dialog.
Plans for the Bernadette movie version began within a year of the book’s publication. In 2015, Richard Linklater (“Boyhood,” “School of Rock” and the “Before Sunrise” trilogy) signed on as director, and Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett joined as Bernadette. In 2017, Billy Crudup was cast as her husband, Elgie, and newcomer Emma Nelson plays daughter Bee.
When Bernadette disappears (she went out through the bathroom window, literally), Bee decides to find out why. Her sleuthing uncovers that 20 years ago, her mother was “the most exciting thing in the world of architecture.”
In the movie, Bee says, “I think what happened to my mom is that she got so focused on her family, she forgot about herself.” What mother can’t relate?
The book is fast paced — you could read it in a day or lazy weekend, and it is told in a trail of emails, notes, hospital bills, love letters and videos.
That hospital bill? It’s for the alleged injury an annoying neighbor suffers when Bernadette allegedly drives over her foot. Audrey, the neighbor (played to perfection by Kristin Wiig) is incensed that the overgrown blackberry bushes in Bernadette’s neglected backyard are creeping into hers, and she has a very important school fundraiser luncheon coming up, and everything must be perfect.
After the inevitable party disaster, Bernadette decides its time to find herself again. She is encouraged by a fan of her work (Laurence Fishbourne), who says, “People like you must create. If you don’t, you become a menace to society,”
Will the little family find its way back together? All those scenes of Antarctica should be a welcome antidote for the dog days of summer.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette is now available for purchase. The film adaptation opens on August 16, 2019.
About Maria Semple
Maria spent her early years traveling around Europe with her bohemian parents, but that ended abruptly when her father, Lorenzo Semple, Jr., finished a pilot for Batman while living in Torremolinos, Spain. He airmailed it in, they shot it, and the family moved to LA. After the Batman TV series and feature, Lorenzo went on to write a bunch of movies. Once he was established, the family moved to Aspen, Colorado. Maria attended boarding school at Choate Rosemary and college at Barnard, where she majored in English. She moved to LA shortly after graduating Barnard and wrote screenplays which never got made, and TV shows which did. In 2008 Maria, George Meyer and their little daughter moved to Seattle just because. It was a difficult adjustment for Maria, which became the basis for Where’d You Go, Bernadette. The novel came out in 2012 and became an instant bestseller.