Bernie (2011) ****

April 20th, 2013
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director: Richard Linklater

Script: Richard Linklater, Skip Hollandsworth

Cast:  Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey, Brady Coleman, Richard Robichaux

99min    US Comedy Drama

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Rather like Michael Winterbottom, Richard Linklater never follows a straight line with subject he choses to film and here he takes a strange but true story of Bernie Tiede, a real life mortician from Carthage, Texas. This is Linklater’s home territory and his familiarity with the set-up comes across in the wry humour that pokes fun at his fellow citizens but never goes as far as to offend them.

Jack Black plays the leading role as the butter wouldn’t melt in the mouth but slightly tongue-in-cheek mortician and community do-gooder and tells the story of his friendship with rich but mean-spirited widow Marjorie, a savvy Shirley MacLaine. As the story goes, so popular is Bernie and so hated is Marjorie, even by her own miserable family who have tried to sue her for an inheritance, it’s only a matter of time before the relationship starts to hit the buffers.

Told in a jokey documentary style this light-hearted yet dark comedy has some bitter truths at its core. The story makes for great film material, due to it’s ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ quality and spot-on casting of Jack Black who appears authentic and yet there’s something deeply suspect lurking beneath his surface charm. For Black this is a character that’s totally new to his repertoire and yet he creates a fully-rounded Bernie and makes him larger than life despite his shortness in stature.

In a stroke of genius, Linklater uses real inhabitants for the community interviews which gives a documentary slant to the proceedings and adds to the believability of this homely tale with sinister underpinnings. But why has this obvious hit taken so long to grace our screens in the UK? I can remember seeing this at the London Film Festival soon after its release in 2011.

As the action unfolds, the two become inseparable and a strange bond develops and doesn’t bringout the best in either of them. Bernie’s a people person and his insatiable need to offer comfort to the bereft and find time for the local drama group are at odds with Marjorie’s wunderlust and control freakery. In the end it’s up to the local district attorney (Matthew McConnaughey) to prove that Bernie isn’t quite as saintly as he’d have us believe. Go and enjoy this.  You’ll never believe the outcome but when you see what happens it will all make sense. MT




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