Bernie (3 1/2 Stars out of 5)
Directed by Richard Linklater (Before Sunset, School of Rock)
Written by Richard Linklater (Before Sunset), Skip Hollandsworth (Suburban Madness)
Starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey
A long time ago in a movie land far away Jack Black starred as an obnoxious man with dreadlocks in I Still Know What You Did Last Summer; he also was the militant yet goofy brother in Mar Attacks! From early on, along with his work with Tenacious D, you could tell Jack Black had a shtick, and you either love or hate him. In 2000 he proved to be talented actor, in the great, and underrated film High Fidelity. Black also proved to tone down his routine in the 2003 film School of Rock. While I have never been a major fan; he seems to turn in his best work when he works with Richard Linklater, and Bernie is his best work.
Bernie is centered around a man named Bernie Tiede (Black) who moves from Louisiana to a small town in Texas, named Carthage where he becomes an assistant funeral director. Bernie strikes up friendships with many of the older women in town, but the most important relationship is with Marjorie Nugent (MacLaine). After Marjorie's husband has died Bernie goes to do what he always does, take a thoughtful gift basket to the widow. The major problem is that Marjorie is not well liked, and just a mean woman. After a second attempt the two become fast friends, and do everything together from travel to eating meals. The friendship soon becomes manipulative, and Marjorie's controlling manner leads to dark ending to their friendship, and one of the funniest films about crime.
Most of the credit for the tone of the film belongs to Richard Linklater. Linklater is a mater at creating some of the most intimate films, like Before Sunrise, and Before Sunset. Linklater also knows how to create some of the most fun films like School of Rock, which was another Jack Black film, these two are dynamite together, and Black should continue this working relationship for a long time!
In this film Linklater along Skip Hollandsworth constructed a master screenplay about a true crime in the lightest manner possible. Hollandsworth wrote the original article for Texas Monthly, but helped work on the script with Linklater. While many films about a true crime take on the darkness of the human character this film takes the opposite approach. Using question boards throughout the film which delve into the deeper issues of this incident in Carthage, and with Bernie himself. For example Who was Bernie? Was Bernie Gay? The story then turns to local Carthage folks who threw in their own two cents on the true crime. One of the the most interesting threads of this film is that even through dark actions Bernie was still viewed as a love able Christian. One of the best parts about this film is the way the film blends the darkness with the humor, and writing sing through like the performance of The Music Man within the film, a light hearted romp with small town folks meets Best in Show.
At the core of this is Jack Black's performance, which is one of the best leading performances of the year, and one of the performances, which is often over looked, subtle. Black avoids all his typical loud mouthed antics, and just let's things flow naturally. Black is brilliant as Bernie, and he proves he can take on serious, and wonderful roles one again. At the end his performance and the film prove to be one of the most interesting profiles on actual real life true crime I have ever seen.