Bernie, released almost a year ago in the USA finally makes its way overseas to the UK. Jack Black plays Bernie Tiede an American accused and convicted of shooting dead an old age widower and distributing her wealth to the Carthage towns less privileged and poor. The film, which is based on a true story, is difficult to define into a genre for it does not follow regular archetypes of Hollywood crime drama nor comedy but rather uses a mode of mockumentary and dramatized re-enactments to give it a wholesome and a near faultless trajectory Hollywood ending.
“You cannot have grief tragically becoming comedy” Bernie whispers in his mellow tones as he stands before a class of pupils demonstrating the meticulous care taken to prepare the deceased before burial. This very statement becomes the driving force of the narrative and Linklater’s approach to what fundamentally is a serious and difficult topic. Linklater’s clever use of casting actual townspeople who knew Bernie Tiede as head interviewees preserves and heightens the underlying true story.
Bernie is introduced as an effeminate assistant funeral director and mortician who is charming, caring, kind-hearted and generous beyond his means, as he effortlessly charms the entire Texan town of Carthage. Bernie is presented as a jack of all trades and almost a localised celebrity that virtually commanded a status greater than any priest may. His very kind-hearted nature allows him to build relationships with the heart of Carthage who when interviewed have nothing but kind words to speak of him. Black is excellent in his portrayal of Bernie, the way he carries himself, this delivery of dialogue to his mannerisms which are admirable.
Linklater develops the story well and builds on a solid opening to introduce us to Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) the wife of a millionaire businessman who pursues a relationship with Bernie after his death. Marjorie is hated by the entire town and has a bitter relationship even with her own family who tried very hard to sue her for her money. MacLaine’s portrayal of a loathsome miserable wealthy widow is wonderful and emotionally magical; however her character development is somewhat ambiguous and fails to really push home any real sense of clear connection, much of which could be said about Bernie too. The relationship between Marjorie and Bernie is vague at times which leave one disconnected and as nothing more than a mere spectator similar to the convicting jury. Matthew McConaughey is a talented actor and really captures the essence of Danny Buck the local district attorney but this believability comes from McConaughey’s previous works and not solely from this performance alone.
Bernie is a light-hearted and easy going film that leaves one questioning whether it really is a true story for some of the absurdities just leave you in disbelief. The film is marketed as being a black comedy and for the best part it will have you merely chortle but it sure won’t have you laughing senseless. Linklater’s efforts are worthy of praise for his unique storytelling achieves far beyond your average Hollywood cliché black comedy.
Bernie is released this Friday, 26th April.]]>