Friday, May 18, 2012

Review of BERNIE (2012)

- Rated PG-13 for some violent images and brief strong language.
- Starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey
- Written by Richard Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth (based on a true story)
- Directed by Richard Linklater
- Running time: 1hr 39min

Remember Richard Linklater?  He was a pretty big deal in the mid-90's when he came out with SLACKER, DAZED AND CONFUSED and BEFORE SUNRISE.  Since then he's been moderately successful making both avante garde, low-budget indie films (TAPE, SCANNER DARKLY, SUBURBIA, WAKING LIFE) and safe, mainstream studio films (SCHOOL OF ROCK, BAD NEWS BEARS).  Lately, I thought that both FAST FOOD NATION and ME AND ORSON WELLS were both very good.  It seems like he's not as recognized lately, and that's too bad. 

This is actually based on a true story.  Bernie (Black) is a well liked mortician in the small town of Carthage, Texas.  He keeps little old widows at ease after their husbands pass away, sings at the local church, and is an all around nice guy to everyone in the community.  Marjorie (MacLaine) is a cranky old lady who isn't well liked, but that doesn't stop Bernie from comforting her when her husband passes away.  The two become very close, which makes the town a little suspicious.  Just what is Bernie after?

Many reviews have given away a major event that happens about halfway through, but I'm not going to be one of those critics.  You might already know it if you heard about the true story, otherwise I feel like it's best not to know. 

This is a nice little low-key comedy/drama, with a hint of darkness.  The movie effectively starts off in quasi-documentary fashion as townfolks (who aren't actors, but townies that knew the "real" Bernie) are being interviewed about how they feel about Bernie, and just how they all appreciate him.  We see how active Bernie is within the community, who was a stout chubby man that was so kind that it's almost creepy. 

Jack Black completely loses himself in the character.  Not once do you see "Jack Black".  He becomes Bernie, giving him likability, but also a hint of something slightly off.  And he gets the opportunity to show off his awesome vocal abilities as he sings some old gospel tunes.  His relationship with Marjorie starts off touching, but ends up being abusive as she takes complete advantage of the "I'll do anything for you" mentality of Bernie.  MacLaine is terrific for the role.  Matthew McConaughey gives an amusing off beat performance as a cop who is suspicious of Bernie's intentions. 

Richard Linklater keeps the direction simple.  Nothing fancy, with is fine as this gives the characters within the frame to come to life.  The script keeps a nice balance of subtle humor and dark thematic elements.  The movie may be a little "too" low key at times.  Sometimes it felt like the filmmakers were being too laid back.  But that's nothing major. 

Despite the dark themes this movie introduces throughout, it maintains a nice pleasant vibe, which makes for a strange but entertaining experience.  If you're a fan of Jack Black, give this one a try, especially if you'd like to see him doing something different for a change. 

*** (out of ****)

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