February 21, 2013

Rabid Rewind: Bernie (starring Jack Black)

starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey
directed by Richard Linklater
written by Skip Hollandsworth and Richard Linklater
Millienium Entertainment (2012)

It is almost unfathomable that this movie is based on a true story, but it is, and it even includes interviews with local residents in a pseudo-documentary format.

I didn't even know this movie existed until I saw the trailer during the previews on some other DVD. By then, it was already on DVD too, so I figured I would give it a shot. I enjoy a Jack Black romp every now and then--I even liked that Year One movie he did with Michael Cera--and he apparently received some praise from critics for his performance in this one.

And I gotta say, if it weren't for the fact that I already knew this was loosely based on a true story, I would have taken this as total farce. See, the story revolves around Bernie Tiede (Black), a soft-spoken assistant funeral director with a boundless appetite for helping others in his hometown of Carthage, particularly grieving widows. It's when he crosses paths with the ill-tempered and generally despised Margorie Nugent (MacLaine), following the death of her wealthy husband. Bernie, in time, becomes her closest confidante, much to the chagrin of her stock broker and estranged family, all of whom seem quite preoccupied with the fortune she's sitting on--and spending quite lavishingly on Bernie. It's not all smiles and sunshine though, as the friendship quickly turns more servile, then sour altogether.

It's then that Bernie kills her.

What follows is one of the darkest comedies I've seen a while. Bernie comes off as an utterly sincere character with nary a bad bone in his body, yet he reaches a breaking point with the widow Nugent, as her ever-increasing abuse finally steps on his last nerve and he snaps. It's a sudden, almost comical, and ultimately sad moment when he kills her. Lightened only by the support he receives from the community, some even claiming she deserved to die. This forces the D.A. Buck Davidson to seek a change of venue for the murder trial, because it doesn't look like there's a soul in Carthage that would convict Bernie.

Interspersed with interviews with actual Carthage residents, the story plays out in an almost prime-time reenactment tone, but with performances that are silly and riveting at the same time. Matthew McConaughey does a particularly good job as the D.A., with a folksy and highfalutin portrayal of a prosecutor dumbfounded at a town rallying round a killer. Jack Black's effeminate and gumptious portrayal of Bernie is definitely a stand-out among his film credits, too.

There's a morbid tinge to the comedy that veers into awkward and truly sad scenes, where if not for the fact this was based on a true story, it'd be dismissed as mawkish. If you enjoyed watching shows like The Office with its mockumentary approach, you're apt to enjoy this movie.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this movie against my better judgment, though I would have enjoyed it even more if it weren't based on a true story...or at least if it wasn't so close to the truth. These true crime movies always feel a bit too exploitative to me, and even more so when they're played for laughs as BERNIE was.

    Nice write-up.