A loving mom becomes compelled to reconnect with her creative passions after years of sacrificing herself for her family. Her leap of faith takes her on an epic adventure that jump-starts her life and leads to her triumphant rediscovery.
Bernadette Fox is a former architect who settled down with her husband Elgin and their daughter Bee. Bernadette finds herself bored and frustrated with her life, and she finds herself at odds with other moms from Bee’s school, including their neighbor Audrey Griffin.
Bernadette keeps in touch with an assistant from India named Manjula. This turns out to be a front for a Russian extortion ring that is trying to defraud Bernadette and Elgin. He stages an intervention for her along with a therapist and an FBI agent, and they plan to have Bernadette committed to an institution. In response, she spontaneously runs away to Antarctica, where Bee had planned to bring her parents along for a trip. There, Bernadette rekindles her love for architecture and plans to work on a station.
Elgin and Bee head off to Antarctica to find Bernadette, and when they do, they support her wishes to get back into her work.
The film starts with Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) rowing a canoe through Antarctica while we hear the voice of her daughter Bee (Emma Nelson) musing about how life appears to some people, and how her dad failed to notice the way his wife was feeling about her own life.
Bernadette lives with her husband Elgin Branch (Billy Crudup) and Bee. Bee surprises the family with tickets for a trip to Antarctica, which does not appeal to either of them. Bernadette is a stay-at-home mom while Elgin is a developer for Microsoft, and he has created a gadget called Samantha 2 that can send messages through thought control. She doesn’t get along with other moms, but especially her neighbor Audrey Griffin (Kristen Wiig). As Bernadette passes Audrey’s house, she asks Bernadette to get rid of the blackberry bushes outside her house to convenience Audrey. Bernadette also sends emails to a personal assistant from India named Manjula to help with some tasks, while Manjula sends Bernadette things when she asks.
At Bee’s school, Audrey is waiting with fellow mom Soo-Lin Lee-Segal (Zoe Chao), who has recently started working for Elgin. They see Bernadette pick Bee up, and Audrey goes to try and give her a paper. Bernadette punches it at Audrey gets closer, and Audrey falls, pretending that Bernadette ran over her foot.
Bernadette is approached by an eager young woman who recognizes her from a video. She asks Bernadette for a photo, but she silently rejects her. Bernadette goes to look up the video, which is a document of her work as an architect. She was well-regarded in her field due to being the only woman in a predominantly male environment. She was also responsible for building a uniquely structured house, which was later demolished by the person who bought it. Afterwards, Bernadette left architecture and settled down with Elgin.
Elgin and Bernadette have lunch together. She expresses her feelings about being around the other moms, and also expresses concern about Soo-Lin working for Elgin, though he tries to assure her that she is worried about nothing.
Audrey is hosting a brunch with other parents and their kids on a rainy day. With the blackberry bushes removed, it gives way to a mudslide that breaks through Audrey’s living room and floods the place with mud. She catches Bernadette coming home with Bee and starts to chastise her for the incident. She starts to go off on Bernadette about how none of the other moms like her, which doesn’t bother her until Audrey mentions that the other moms had a sleepover with their daughters and didn’t invite her or Bee. She orders Audrey to leave Bee out of it, though Audrey insists that they love Bee, but think Bernadette isn’t a good mom. Bee defends her mom and tells Audrey “fuck you” along with Bernadette, while also informing her that her son makes fun of her at school and comes home stoned.
Elgin meets with a therapist, Dr. Kurtz (Judy Greer) after he starts to grow concerned over Bernadette’s behavior. At the same time, Bernadette meets with her old professor, Paul Jellenik (Laurence Fishburne). Through their conversations, we learn that she had several miscarriages before having Bee, and she got worried when Bee was born because her heart wasn’t properly developed. Bernadette also expresses regrets with not continuing her architecture work.
Bernadette goes home to find Elgin, Dr. Kurtz, and an FBI agent gathered for an intervention. They inform her that “Manjula” is the handle of a Russian hacker who has obtained Bernadette’s personal information and are planning to defraud her and Elgin. Thinking her unwell, they try to commit Bernadette to an institution. Bernadette retreats to the bathroom before escaping out the window. Everyone finds out too late. She runs to Audrey’s house for help, and they bury the hatchet so that Audrey can help Bernadette get away. When Audrey sees Bee again, she informs her that she took her mother to the airport, which Bee figures must mean that she went off to Antarctica on her own.
Despite learning from the agent that “Manjula” has been apprehended at the airport, Elgin and Bee head off to Antarctica to find Bernadette. Meanwhile, she joins a group of people working in a research station, and she befriends a woman named Becky (Troian Bellisario). Bernadette asks the head of the station if she can join the team to work on it. Although the woman appears hesitant to let her join, she agrees after Bernadette makes a compelling argument regarding her past work.
As the two continue their search, Elgin and Bee stop for a while. Elgin informs Bee that Samantha 2 is no more due to the changes that his employers want to make to it. Eventually, the two wander into the station and overhear Bernadette talking on the phone over the station project. They come out of hiding to approach Bernadette, who is surprised to see the two of them there. They support her desire to follow her dream and go ahead with working on the station.
The film ends with the family watching the sunrise on the ice.
Credits show the construction of the station based on Bernadette’s plans.