Genre(s): Drama, Comedy, Crime
Director(s): Richard Linklater
Release Year: 2012
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Jack Black is one of those actors who you can almost always assume the kind of movie to expect with him leading it. If you like Jack Black’s humor, then you probably love almost all of his films. Very rarely does he do something more experimental with perhaps King Kong being the most diverse role he has had in the past 10 or so years. That’s not to say Jack Black is a bad actor. He’s great at what he does. But I’ve never been that impressed with him until Bernie, his latest effort, reuniting him with his School of Rock director, Richard Linklater (another film that I did enjoy with Black).
It’s more than just the fact that Linklater is directing this that I enjoy it. In fact, there’s many reasons beyond Jack Black that make this film great. But it’s the culmination of Black’s performance and other factors that make Bernie a great film. The casting in general is great. Jack Black gives his best performance to date as Bernie Tiede, a caring mortician who wants nothing more than to help his town out and make every resident happy. Shirley MacLaine plays Marjorie, a widow who clings to Bernie when she finally gets past the grief of her late husband’s death and allows Bernie into her life. Then Matthew McConaughey is the district attorney who aims to convict Bernie, despite the effect Bernie has had on the town and its people. All three actors give great performances, but it definitely is Black who shines in his role. As a viewer, you really understand why everyone in Carthage falls in love with Bernie, and you can see the gradual increase in irritation that Bernie feels towards Marjorie as she begins to control his every movement.
The way Linklater presents interviews from the other residents of the town, leading up to and after Bernie’s downfall is thought-provoking. The documentary style fits this film very well, and since it is based on a true story it lends itself to the authenticity. Despite its attempts to portray a real person and a real scenario, you can definitely still feel the magic of film creeping in. It plays itself as a documentary, but it has some very dark comedic elements that take place, with one scene even going so far as to include the grim reaper. There’s many comedic elements added to death, but you also feel what Bernie feels when he looks at death. Where we would see death, Bernie sees an opportunity to make someone’s passing more enjoyable and a less depressing affair, whether this be through touching up their body post-mortem or helping the affected family through their grief. This is what Linklater is able to display through Jack Black’s performance and his own use of a ‘mockumentary’ style.
The movie is not perfect by any means, but it’s short and sweet, delivering an incredible performance from Jack Black that may be the best he ever does if he doesn’t attempt to branch out a little more. But that’s not a knock against Black, a man who seems comfortable doing his own brand of comedy. What Bernie really manages to do is continue solidifying Richard Linklater as one of the best contemporary directors. His style of film seems easy to copy, but it’s him who really has mastered it. Bernie is a film that feels like it has come from a mature director, and perhaps that sense of confidence is what makes the charm come off so easily.