Review: Bernie

Sometimes truth is stranger then fiction. This saying applies to the brilliant, scathing comedy “Bernie” from director Richard Linklater (Dazed & Confused, School of Rock). The solid cast includes Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey amongst a cast of colorful townspeople.

In the small rural town of Carthage, Texas, assistant funeral director Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) is one of the town’s most adored citizens. He was the model Christian man whom taught Sunday school, sang in the church’s choir and was always willing to compassionately assist others. After the funerals at his business, he would befriend and check up on the widowed spouses. Bernie befriended Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), a very affluent widow who was infamous for her bitter attitude and wealth. As they grew close together, Bernie traveled with Marjorie and eventually managed her financial accounts. Marjorie became dependant on Bernie’s generosity and manipulated him. Bernie even struggled to meet her demands and as he continued to handle her various tasks the townspeople went months without seeing Marjorie. Prosecutor Danny Buck (Matthew McConaughey) grows suspicious of her disappearance.

That’s all I should say regarding the plot of “Bernie.” What unravels is a fascinating exploration of dire humanity and collective community judgment. Jack Black delivers what might be the best performance of his career as a gullible man trapped in the wickedness of his kindhearted nature. At their core, his actions are all about Bernie and no one else. Black portrays Bernie as one who handles with the best of grace, wit, and comedic timing. Its too bad the Academy shies away quirky comedy because Jack Black could have a legitimate shot with an Oscar nomination. The distinctive tone of “Bernie” balances goofy absurdness amongst a grim situation.

If you ask me...

The strongest element in “Bernie” is the interviews involving the folksy townspeople. Carthridge is like any small town in America, but especially in the South. And as the saying goes, “Everything is Bigger in Texas.” Gossip and speculation consume the local folks piecing together what happened. People quiet whisper the sexual orientation on Bernie and wonder if he had a romantic rendezvous with Marjorie…or if they were just close friends. Strong belly laughs overflow as the townspeople relinquish and reflect on the man Bernie is and the complicated situation. Some of the funniest comedy from any movie in recent memory came from these individuals being interviewed documentary style.

One of the surprising revelations about “Bernie” was the script co-written by Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth was based on a true story! Even in the closing credits, Jack Black interviews the real Bernie as an explanation is given. As a film, “Bernie” is one of the most delightful movie surprises of the year. This shouldn’t be a surprise considering director Linklater was behind the camera for some cult classic films including “Dazed & Confused as well as “School of Rock.” His involvement elevates the story of Bernie Tiede to a rare cult level as well.

Rating: 8 out of 10


About Kenny Miles

Whether something is overlooked by Hollywood or whatever business trend has captured the Entertainment Industry’s attention, Kenny Miles loves to talk about movies (especially the cultural impact of a film). He covers various aspects of movies including specialty genre films, limited release, independent, foreign language, documentary features, and THE much infamous "awards season." Also, he likes to offer his opinion on the business of film, marketing strategy, and branding. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado and is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society critics group. When he isn’t writing, Kenny channels his passion for interacting with moviegoers (something most movie pundits lack) as a pollster for the market research company CinemaScore and working as floor staff/special events coordinator in the film community. You can follow him on Twitter @kmiles723.