Bernie * * * *


Director: Richard Linklater
Screenplay: Richard Linklater, Skip Hollandsworth.
Starring: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey, Richard Robichaux, Brady Coleman, Rick Dial, Brandon Smith, Larry Jack Dotson, Kay McConaughey.

Richard Linklater has always been a reliable “lesser scale” director. He made his name with impressive indie film “Slacker” in 1991 and since then he’s consistently delivered impressive shifts in genre. Although not exactly a household name, anyone aware of his work is rarely disappointed. His latest in Bernie, is yet another shift for him and, unsurprisingly, another success.

In the small town of Carthage, Texas, Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) is a generous and well respected undertaker who is directly involved with the local church and has a great rapport with the townsfolk. Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) is also one of the locals but is disliked by many due to her bad attitude and vast wealth. After she is recently widowed, Bernie lends her his friendship and becomes directly involved in her affairs- eventually taking over as her carer. However, Marjorie becomes completely dependent on Bernie to the point where he increasingly struggles to please her and also continue his work in the local church going community.

With this film being based on actual events, I’d rather not reveal too much about it. Many will already be aware of the turns of events that take place (as was I) but I think this would work better with a slight element of surprise to it. Suffice to say that Linklater constructs it in a faux-documentary style and makes clever use of combining interviews with both actors and the real life people that lived through the events themselves. The lines between fact and fiction are skilfully blurred and it’s helped immeasurably by an exceptionally good cast; normally I’m not in the camp of Jack Black enthusiasts but here, he is very good indeed. This is a role that’s entirely suited to him and he mostly does away with his usual schtick of smarm and irritating humour and replaces it with an odd charisma and endearment. He’s more reserved and captures the essence of his character that is, on the one hand, very likeable, yet highly ambiguous in his intentions. Whichever way he comes across, it’s hard to be judgmental of him. It’s not just Black that shines here though; it’s great to see the marvellous Shirley MacLaine excel in a role that allows her to be a complete cantankerous bitch and there’s yet another role (this year) that allows Matthew McConaughey to display his talents. Love or loathe the recent film’s of McConaughey (and I admittedly fall into the latter), there’s no denying that he’s finally taking on roles that reflect his abilities. In fact, one of the slight let down’s with this film is that McConaughey is underused – he’s brilliant but just not in it enough.
Where this film succeeds though, is in it’s structure and the welcome touch of wry humour coursing through it, taking the edge off of what is essentially a disturbing turn of events. As much as this film is a character study, it’s also the study of small town mentality. A town that’s full of Chinese-whispers and curtain-twitchers, yet a major event is overlooked by near enough everyone, in order to maintain their facade and their delusional sense of goodwill. In this respect, Linklater and co-writer Skip Hollandsworth nail it and deliver an intriguing, low-key treat.

A quirky, off-beat and humorous little drama that possesses just enough of a dark undertone to keep almost everyone entertained.

Mark Walker


20 Responses to “Bernie * * * *”

  1. I was curious about this one. Now that someone I know enjoyed it, I’ll probably give it a go. Thanks, Mark.


  2. Glad you enjoyed this! I really liked Bernie. Not sure if you know this but I’m a funeral director and there are so many little details that Linklater nails regarding the business as well as little inside jokes that I appreciated. Black is surprisingly good & MM was a hoot! Great review bro!


    • I didn’t know that’s your profession. I admire that. I couldn’t do it. I’d imagine in that case, you’ve had been giggling away while jokes went right over other peoples heads? It’s no surprise to me that Linklater got it right though. His attention to detail is superb normally and it’s a trait of his that tends to get overlooked. A great director and another great film. Thanks bro.


  3. I’m not that interested in this to be honest, but after reading all the good reviews I might give it a rent. I actually don’t mind Jack Black. Great review here, Mark!


    • Thanks Ruth. Yeah, don’t dismiss this one too soon. It’s a very well made little film with everything going for it. The style, the performances and the mood are all spot on. Give it a go, I’d like to hear your thoughts on it.


  4. Great post, I’m curious about this film now.


  5. ray brayne Says:

    Bernie, the musical mortician. Black sings a lot in this. Fortunately he’s got the chops! It’s funny cause he and Linklater did “School of Rock” and I thought he was going to break into Tenacious D at any second. Linklater managed to pull off the “talking heads” film aspect successfully, it was vital to this flik. You have to pay attention though, with the pure Texan they’re speaking, you don’t know if they’re being funny or not. In the end it’s a choice between Lucretia Borgia or Mr. Happy.


    • I know what you mean Ray, I also felt that Black would burst into some wild antics at any point. Credit to him though, I’m not normally a fan but he was impressively reserved here.

      Borgia and Mr. Happy? Haha, I wish I’d thought of that description for my write-up. Cheers man.


  6. Nice review. I hadn’t heard anything about this movie so had no idea where it was going and was glad I did, because it was totally unexpected and I kind of felt like the people liiving in the town 😉 Love the way it was shot, feeling like a documentary.


    • Unfortunately, I did know a bit about the outcome Nostra but I wasn’t prepared to reveal too much in my review, so those that havent seen it could get the same level of surprise that you got. I wish I viewed it this way. Thanks man.


  7. I haven’t read a single mediocre/negative thing about this and I was STILL surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Really unique film. Great job, Mark!


  8. I liked this one quite a bit. Nice to see Jack Black being a little LESs Jack Black.

    Also nice when a true story is told so well and funnily. Great review


    • Cheers Scott. I liked it too. Although Black normally puts me off films, I’m an admirer of Linklater so I kind of expected to like it and as you say, Black wasn’t quite his usual self.


  9. Great review, Mark. Everyone seems to be loving ‘Bernie’. I’m very interested in seeing it after reading so much praise.


  10. Glad to read you liked McConaughey too – I loved his work here – he was so much fun and I agree – a bit underused. The film was really charming, but it probably won’t end up in my top 10 of the year.


    • Black was great and deserves the recognition but McConaughey’s work seems to regularly get overlooked here. I thought he brilliant. As for rating it throughout the year, you’re probably right. It won’t make many top ten lists but still a great little film. Cheers Sati.


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