Bernie (2012)
Bernie (2012)

Genre: Crime Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 44 min.

Release Date: April 27th, 2012 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Richard Linklater Actors: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey, Brady Coleman, Richard Robichaux, Rick Dial, Brandon Smith, Larry Jack Dotson, Merrilee McCommas

 


 

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omber violins mockingly introduce the larger-than-life, unavoidably comical Jack Black, taking on a role that initially possesses no more seriousness than the goofy comedian could possibly bring to it. With its basis on a true story, and with a borrowed narrative gimmick from Warren Beatty’s “Reds,” director Richard Linklater has crafted a pseudo-documentary style presentation in which real interviewees comment on the man and the events in Bernie’s tale, while the audience is alternatingly subjected to the dryly witty dramatization. Though the film chronicles a rather unusual protagonist, his unsurprising crime, and the unconventional circumstances of small-town litigation and dispositions, the situation itself doesn’t feel theatrical enough to warrant such an adaptation.

Arriving from Louisiana to Carthage, Texas, Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) is one of the most qualified funeral business employees Don Leggett (Rick Dial) has ever known. Bernie becomes the Assistant Funeral Director of the Leggett Funeral Home, excelling at every faction of the mortician trade. He’s a magician with little old ladies, skilled at sales, capable of singing any song or reciting any eulogy, and can easily ease any grieving family member. An artist in the embalming room, Bernie is also a perfectionist when it comes to the cosmetizing, dressing, and casketing process. After working on Mr. Nugent’s funeral, he befriends the elderly, wealthy, stingy, bitter, much-despised Mrs. Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), who amazingly warms up to the persistent, kindhearted Bernie. It’s not long before they’re inseparable and vacationing across the world together, traveling to exotic locales and popular landmarks – all thanks to Mrs. Nugent’s sizable fortune.

Since Carthage is a tightknit community, everyone makes assumptions about the peculiar relationship between Bernie and Marjorie. Many even assume Bernie is gay. But he’s such a good Christian and an accommodating friend that most are simply pleased with the way in which he brings the residents together – through activities such as the organization of an art festival, aiding people with their taxes, and getting involved in the local theater as a musical director and actor. But as Marjorie becomes more and more ornery, possessive, and jealous of Bernie’s interactions with others, especially after he cuts back his hours at the funeral parlor to work as her personal servant, he begins to realize his actual position as a slave.

The asides with Carthage townsfolk, to fill in details about Bernie and Nugent, would have been much more convincing were it not for the casting of Matthew McConaughey as District Attorney and politician Danny Buck, who is far too recognizable to pull off the part of an unknown citizen. The rest appear authentically as non-actors (even those who are actually actors), imparting impromptu commentary to effectively push the plot forward. While Bernie conveys his belief that grief should not tragically become comedy (pertaining to corpses accidentally losing their carefully-orchestrated posturing), the film takes its own turn in the opposite direction, beginning as a dark comedy and steadily veering toward dramatic tragedy. At the start, the characters are quirky and amusing, but ultimately reveal themselves to be unlikeable and unsympathetic, despite scripting the prosecutor to be equally disagreeable and in the role of an antagonist. It’s a production of medium affectations and general neutrality, translating a mildly newsworthy article into a feature-length movie that detrimentally reveals the material’s lack of ostentatious details.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10