Director: Richard Linklater
Stars:Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey
Richard Linklater is one of the few filmmakers that seems to let the story dictate the direction of the film. He acts a conduit for creativity and style. “School of Rock” feels and looks nothing like “Before Sunset,” and “Dazed and Confused” has little in common with “A Scanner Darkley.” His latest film, “Bernie,” is a kind-of documentary, kind-of narrative of an assistant funeral director Bernie Tiede (Jack Black).
Bernie himself is a kind and sweet entrepreneur in the small Texas town of Carthage. While not working at the morgue, Bernie is singing, attending church, rehearsing a play, giving money to charity, giving money to random folks, volunteering, aiding the neighborhood, and or looking after elderly widows. One of those widows is the cruel and down-right bitchy millionaire, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). Bernie becomes infatuated with her and she quickly takes advantage of his kindness. She becomes possessive and demanding with Bernie’s generosities. The nicest man Carthage has ever known then shoots, for all intense and purposes, an innocent 81-year-old widow to death.
Having been the frozen hearted queen of bitchery, the town doesn’t really notice (or mind) Marjorie’s absence. Months go by and the only person to actually take notice is her accountant. After nine months, the authorities find her in a freezer in her garage. District Attorney Danny Buck (Matthew McConaughey) takes the seemingly clean-and-cut case under investigation.
The movie seems to be a 50/50 mix of narrative filmmaking coupled with sit-down commentary. Most of the commentary comes from the actual residents of Carthage, but others are portrayed by actors. Matthew McConaughey does a bit of commentating as Danny Duck. Imagine a reenacted documentary, but really, really, really well done.
Jack Black is ridiculously good as Bernie. He somehow has the ability to be a boisterous crowd pleaser as well as a reserved gentleman. His mannerisms, articulation, and posture are so far removed from Jack Black’s Jack Blackiness that he melds right into the town of Carthage. This isn’t really a complaint, but when Matthew McConaughey pops up on-screen as a sit-down interviewee, his rhythm and timing are perfect – too perfect. The Carthage residents’ raw intonations and personalities were what made them so damn charming. That was just a nitpick because McConaughey was entertaining and charming, along with Black and MacLaine.
The town of Carthage is just as much a chracter as any individual actor in “Bernie.” With such a variety of reactions and commentary to the events, Carthage becomes its own entity. They even have to move the trial to a different township because any jurors from Carthage would potentially be positively biased toward Bernie. Even though this movie is about murder, it somehow warms my heart to know that a place like Carthage exists.
This movie is considered a dark comedy, and a fair bit of controversy has come from it. Is a real-life murder something that should be portrayed in a comedic light? First off, this case is bizarre enough that it’s probably going to be funny no matter the circumstances. Secondly, according to 47 minutes of internet research, this movie seems pretty accurate and gives a fair perspective. I wouldn’t say this movie is exploiting a murder for the sake of comedy because the actors seem to be playing it fairly straight. Bernie Tiede is a larger than life person, so Jack Black is portraying him as such. Exploiting a tragedy by re-releasing “Titanic” in eye-popping 3D is a better argument.
All-in-all, “Bernie” is not a laugh-out-loud barrel of fun, but it has a pretty consistent amount of chuckles. The filmmaking techniques, characters, story, and performances are what make “Bernie” special and unique. It’s also a testament that, under the right circumstances, anyone can commit murder.
– I can watch Jack Black dance around all day.
– Richard Linklater seems to make whatever he wants, and does it well. Keep that up.
– Matthew McConaughey seems to be distancing himself from romantic comedies. Good – he’s a genuinely talented guy. He’s in “Amistad” for God’s sake.
– “American Splendor” is a great movie with a similar style.