(CNN)“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” offers a solid showcase for Cate Blanchett, in a movie that’s notably slight, but finally sweet and touching. Director Richard Linklater moves from “Boyhood” to the pangs of parenthood in this adaptation of Maria Semple’s bestselling novel, which pivots on the vital role creativity plays in our lives.
That inherent message might bode well for “Bernadette,” or at least Blanchett’s part of it, to the extent it should speak directly to Hollywood peers. Its heroine is actually an architect, one who has set aside those ambitions when she’s introduced, living a life of quiet desperation in Seattle, where her husband (Billy Crudup) works for Microsoft.
The tale of Blanchett’s Bernadette unfolds in part through the eyes of her teenage daughter, Bee (newcomer Emma Nelson). The film’s mother-daughter component provides its emotional core, especially with Bee preparing to head off to boarding school, which might help explain why her mom is in an especially foul mood.
Bernadette clearly loves her family; it’s everyone else who annoys her, including the local PTA types, among them a neighbor (Kristen Wiig) who embodies everything that Bernadette detests about life in Seattle.
“I’m not good when exposed to people,” Bernadette mutters early on, a condition that becomes increasingly uncomfortable — and its roots, eventually, clearer — as the story progresses, building toward a vacation that she really doesn’t want to take, squiring her kid to Antarctica.
Bernadette’s misanthropic impulses are a source of humor, but they also speak to a pain and unhappiness that neither she nor those around her fully grasp. The efforts to understand that gradually lead to a conflict that causes Bernadette to take flight, giving meaning to the title.
Linklater is an accomplished filmmaker, and “Bernadette” doesn’t rank among his more ambitious efforts; nevertheless, there are relatable elements within what plays like an old-fashioned star vehicle, and a resolution that, after a rocky build-up, proves meaningful, even if it’s somewhat hastily reached.
Blanchett turns Bernadette into a fast-talking force, someone who vents at people — whether old friends or strangers — in long bursts of dialogue. It’s showy, but also a difficult character to make real and relatable, a hurdle the actress ultimately clears.
“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” might have lost something in the translation from page to screen, but taken on its terms the movie is satisfying, if likely to require some helpful word of mouth to make any noise during the dog days of summer.
Then again, even if audiences skip the movie in theaters, it’s the sort of film that could find a receptive audience with exhausted parents looking for something to watch once their kids are asleep, who might understand the urge to run away from home. That’s a fitting scenario, come to think of it, for a story that’s all about second chances.
“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” premieres Aug. 16 in the US. It’s rated PG-13.