Vancouver Just For Laughs Film Festival: ‘Bernadette’ is sweet, but slightly confused

Movies that don’t evoke a strong reaction are the most difficult for me to write about. It’s hard not to oversell the good and bad stuff and create an impression that something is better or much worse than it actually is. Bernadette is a movie like this. It’s well-produced, shot, and acted, and also is feels slightly confused about what it wants to be.

Set in 1994, the last summer before the internet, Archie is a 15-year-old kid with two best friends in love with the unattainably hot Bernadette. She works at the local pool, so he and his friends work as groundskeepers at the park next door. Also working there is a cast of characters, including the local party guy lothario, who takes Archie under his wing.

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If the setup sounds familiar, it should. It’s the setup for any number of raunchy summer sex comedies or summer coming of age tales. And therein lies the problem. Bernadette can’t quite decide which movies it wants to be, so it tries to be both. That’s not an unachievable feat, but it requires striking a balance that this movie doesn’t quite.

That isn’t to say it’s bad, but it is to say that I wish it had leaned further into being one of these things or the other. As it stands, the sweet, summer coming of age story that I wish it were is hindered by every time it takes a turn toward the raunchy summer comedy it also wants to be. The raunchy bits aren’t terribly funny, and at times, the tonal change is jarring.

That aside, though, Bernadette is slickly directed and well-acted. Sam Straley’s Archie should speak to almost anyone who was an awkward teen in 1994 with his combination of anxiety, anger, shyness, and physical uselessness, and James Psathas is clearly having a blast as the homeless 20 something Dixon who happens to also be hooking up with every girl in town (including Archie’s mom). I don’t know how much money was in the budget, but Bernadette also looks great. The camera work is fantastic, and the period details are spot on (I won’t admit how much of my wardrobe is represented in the film).

This brings us back to the main issue. Despite being tailor made for me, I didn’t really connect with **Bernadette*. It’s a sweet, well-intentioned film with a ton of potential that it doen’t quite live up to mainly, I think, because the filmmakers didn’t quite decide what kind of movie they wanted to make.

The Physics Club really is a great name for a band, though.