Black at his best in black comedy
Director: Richard Linklater
Actor Jack Black has proved to be something of an acquired taste. While his usual manic, exuberant and wide-eyed style has suited characters in films such as High Fidelity, Shallow Hal, School of Rock and Gulliver's Travels, in Bernie he has drastically toned down his over-the-top tendencies to create a brilliant and career-best performance.
Bernie is certainly an offbeat film that's hard to slot into a particular genre, and that is part of its charm. Director/co-writer Richard Linklater ranks highly in the current crop of independent American filmmakers as he has shown in films such as Fast Food Nation, Me and Orson Welles and School of Rock.
Bernie is an intriguing mix of black comedy and documentary, or perhaps pseudo-doco, with a story based on an actual murder case. But what is particularly fascinating is the combination of small town interviewees and actors, to the point where it becomes difficult to distinguish one from the other... and the breathtakingly hokey small town East Texas locals are just something else!
Chubby undertaker Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) arrives in Carthage, Texas (pop 7000) to take up the position of assistant funeral director. A clean-living, gospel-singing, kind-hearted soul he seems to eagerly take on almost every imaginable community-minded activity, and quickly becomes a much loved member of the town.
Somehow Bernie's wonderful manners ingratiate him with Carthage's mean-spirited and much disliked wealthiest widow Marjorie Nugent (Shirley Maclaine). A most unlikely friendship develops into an obsessively close companionship which showers considerable fortune onto Bernie, until Marjorie's ruthless possessiveness culminates on one unfortunate fateful day.
The story, or mockumentary, is told in a series of flashbacks interspersed with the interviews from the townsfolk; and their commentaries on Bernie, on each other and on other not-so-neighbourly Texans are a delight. Matthew McConnaughey puts in another stellar turn as the town's District Attorney Danny Buck, who, along with Marjorie's accountant Lloyd (Richard Robichaux) is determined to bring Bernie down. Veteran actress Shirley Maclaine is wonderful as the old rich woman, with virtually no dialogue she paints a brilliant mean portrait.
Bernie is a most engrossing film that works in a number of ways, but especially as a series of incredible character studies. And this is a movie that is worth staying for the treats in the end credits.
Bernie will be screened at Bush Theatre in Nimbin this Friday and Saturday, September 21 and 22, at 7.30pm; and at Star Court Theatre in Lismore this Sunday, September 23, at 5.30pm, and Friday, September 28, at 7.30pm.