The Movie Version Of Where'd You Go, Bernadette Leaves Out A Really Juicy Plot Twist

Photo: Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures.

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Where'd You Go, Bernadette.


In the summer of 2013, you couldn't escape seeing the distinct turquoise cover of Maria Semple's paperback novel, Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

The relentlessly clever book revolves around the search for Bernadette, a disaffected Seattle woman who crawled out the bathroom window and disappeared from her life. Her 15-year-old daughter, Bee (Emma Nelson), is in charge of the rescue mission — she's the only person who truly understands her mother. The story in Where'd You Go, Bernadette unfolds entirely in letters, TED talk transcripts, emails, and dictation to a personal assistant who may not actually exist.

A structural marvel, Where'd You Go, Bernadette was pretty much impossible to adapt into a movie. But Richard Linklater went for it anyway. The movie version of Where'd You Go, Bernadette comes out on August 16, and stars Cate Blanchett as the star architect-turned-agoraphobic housewife.

While Bernadette looks pretty much as she's described in the book (hello, big sunglasses), the movie makes a lot of changes to the book. Here are a few of the biggest.

1. The book's timeline is far more complicated than the movie's.


By the time Maria Semple's book starts, Bernadette has already disappeared. Her daughter, Bee, is away at boarding school. Naturally, Bee is still fixated on her mother's disappearance. After receiving a box of correspondence, she tries to track Bernadette down while at Choate.

2. Whereas in the movie, we know where Bernadette went from the very start.

It's Antarctica! In the first scene, Bernadette is kayaking serenely among the icebergs. Considering this is the book's central mystery, it's odd to see Bernadette's location disclosed so quickly and so casually in the movie.

Linklater explains the reasoning behind the change to Vulture. “We can’t have our protagonist be gone from the movie for 35, 40 minutes — she’s the story,” Linklater says. “Bee doesn’t know where Bernadette is. [Her husband] Elgie (played by Billy Crudup) doesn’t know. So it’s still the story; you’re just given more privilege. To me, her journey is really what it’s all about.”

Bee and Bernadette's husband, Elgin (Billy Crudup), figure out that Bernadette went to Antarctica on the cruise Bee had suggested. They hop on the next boat and find her at Palmer Station, where she's already brainstorming her first project in decades: a base at the South Pole.


3. Bee attends Choate in the book.

At the time of her mother's disappearance, Bee is in eighth grade and is trying to convince her parents to take a cruise to Antarctica (casual). In the movie, she's planning to attend Choate in the fall, so the trip marks a moment of transition. During the search for Bernadette with her father, Bee decides not to go away in the fall after all. She only has four more years at home with her parents and wants to enjoy the time with them.

In the book, Bee goes to Chaote — then gets expelled after becoming consumed with putting together a manuscript of her mother's disappearance.

4. Audrey helps Bernadette escape in the book.

To say that Audrey (Kristen Wiig) and Bernadette have a contentious relationship is an understatement. The next-door-neighbors have fundamentally different approaches to life. Bernadette is agoraphobic, bristly, and irreverent. She calls Audrey, who is involved with their kids' school, a "gnat." To be fair, Audrey is hypocritical and spiteful.


Yet in the book and movie, the nemeses are brought together. Audrey actively helps Bernadette escape the misguided intervention that her Elgin and Dr. Kurtz (Judy Greer) stage, by putting a ladder underneath the bathroom window. In the movie, Bernadette just runs to Audrey's house. Later on in the book, Audrey sends Bee the bundle of correspondence.

4. Elgin doesn't have an affair in the movie! Or a baby!

This might not be the biggest change between the book and movie — but it's definitely the juiciest.

Elgin is an AI whiz who works at Microsoft. Ever since they moved to Seattle over 20 years ago, they've drifted apart. Bernadette stalled in her career and turned all of her creative energy toward loathing just about everything about Seattle.

By the time Elgin gets a new administrative assistant, he and Bernadette are nearly estranged. Elgin's assistant, Soo-Lin, has a son in Bee's class. She's one of the women Bernadette classifies as "gnats." Soo-Lin convinces Elgin that Bernadette is crazy. All that conspiring leads Soo-Lin and Elgin to cross professional lines and have a full-on emotional affair.


One night, the affair turns physical. Soo-Lin gets pregnant from their one-night stand. Though Bernadette and Elgin get back together, Soo-Lin has his baby.

Soo-Lin (Zoe Chao) and Elgin's relationship is more tame in the move. Bernadette jokes about them having an affair, but one never comes close to happening.

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