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  • Bernie

    Bernie (2012)
    Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey. Directed by Richard Linklater.

    Bernie is a Richard Linklater film, based on a true story, about a mortician who befriends a wealthy, domineering, elderly widow and then kills her, spending her money on projects to improve the small Texas town he lives in.

    Jack Black plays the title character, an enthusiastic, flamboyant character beloved by almost everyone in the town. As a mortician, he presents funeral services in a sympathetic manner that makes him very popular among the bereaved. As a citizen, he directs (and stars in) community plays, seemingly a friend to all, especially the elderly citizens of the town, many of whom see in Bernie as a gentle, kind man.

    When Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) is widowed, nobody seems especially caring, not even Marjorie's kids and grandkids, to whom she has been mean and alienating. She turns her nastiness on Bernie too, at first, but Bernie's persistent kindness turns into a friendship, and soon the two are traveling together and spending most of Bernie's non-working hours in each other's company. Marjorie disinherits her uncaring family and makes Bernie the sole beneficiary of her will, even giving him power of attorney. But as she demands more and more of his time, becoming more and more dependent on him for every mundane need, Bernie finds himself resentful of this woman who has allowed him to purchase cars for needy citizens and flying lessons for himself.

    Jack Black is brilliant as Bernie. Brilliant. Here is a comic actor whose career has certainly been helped by his willingness to say and do just about anything for a laugh, but who is a star because he is a great singer and performer. When we first hear him sing in Hi Fidelity, it is a shocking and beautiful moment to hear this passionate character belt such beautiful vocals in such a convincing way. Since most of singing since then has been of the comic variety, it has become easy to forget what a good singer he is, and here, in a manner completely lacking irony, Black sings classic hymns with such sincerity that I was moved to tears.

    The way Black throws himself so completely into these hymns is the way he absorbs every other bit of Bernie's character, playing this thing as straight as can be, leaving it up to the situations and story to communicate both tragedy and comedy. When Bernie confesses to the police, it is a heartbreaking, believable moment that very few actors could pull off, because Black earns it with his right-down-the-line straight performance of an almost impossible-to-believe character. Black comedy can be a tricky thing, but Jack Black nails it.

    Nails it.

    Matthew McConaughey as the district attorney who brings Bernie to trial is really good too, but he's too McConaughey for this film, I'm afraid. And here is where I will apologize to Shirley MacLaine for thinking, these past many years, that the skilled actress lost her acting sense twenty years ago. She, too, is perfect in her role, and not at all the eccentric old-woman cliché she's been relegated to in far too many pictures. She can still act: someone please give her a meaningful role.

    Bernie is not a documentary, so most of what I feel is missing is not the fault of the film. Still, I would have liked to see something from the real-life Bernie, something to explain his feelings about where he is now and how he feels about what led him there. And like most black comedies, there is something unsatisfying about the entire experience. I wish I could articulate what that is, but it's something I have felt about just about all of them.

    The crime is not that the real-life Bernie committed this act of murder; the crime is that Jack Black did not win a Best Actor Oscar and that so many people haven't seen this film. I can't believe it didn't play at my local cineplex, or that it showed for only a week or two at the mall theater that shows the indie films.

    8/10 (IMDb rating)
    89/100 (Criticker rating)
    But I'm disturbed! I'm depressed! I'm inadequate! I GOT IT ALL! (George Costanza)

  • #2
    14 Dark and Nihilistic Movies Like Taxi Driver (

    This movie is a dark movie where the main character is a murderer.