To my mind, comedy is the toughest genre to make work, especially when dealing with the darker side of the genre. Humour comes in various flavours, any of which may appeal to one person but not to another. I’m the type of person that enjoys black comedies, like Bernie.
Richard Linklater’s film is based on a real-life murder case that happened in the late ’90s and Jack Black portrays Bernie Teide, a Texas funeral director. Here Black shows that comedy actors can be outstanding in the right role. I had to forget everything I knew about Jack Black because he’s so far removed from his usual films. As far as I’m aware, he hasn’t done anything like this before. If you’re a fan of Black then the film is a must-see.
The titular Bernie is a charming and soft-spoken man, who is loved throughout his small Texas community. Nobody has a bad word to say about him. He’s committed to his job at the funeral parlour, sings in the choir and does his bit for charity. He seems like a nice guy, just a little odd. However, things get complicated when Bernie meets Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), a vile and unpleasant widow.
Unlike Bernie, she is widely disliked among the townsfolk and she just so happens to be very rich. The pair become travel companions and are inseparable. Bernie essentially acts as her manservant and the nature of their relationship raises eyebrows throughout the town. As the story unfolds, many people are interviewed in a mock documentary style, commenting on Bernie and his relationship with Mrs Nugent. It’s funny how the plot unravels and in places, the comedy is so off-beat that you’re not sure whether to laugh or grimace.
Eventually, Nugent starts to get very overbearing, wearing down Bernie’s defences. She becomes a domineering force in his life and he feels trapped by her controlling personality. Why doesn’t he leave her? Well, he tries his best to, but it doesn’t quite go to plan. As a result, it all gets too much for Bernie and it’s no surprise when he finally snaps. I’m big on keeping spoilers to a minimum, so the less you know about Bernie before you see it, will make your viewing experience much more enjoyable.
This is a good film. Richard Linklater directs the movie with a surprising amount of delicacy. It doesn’t have the unforgiving “bite” normally found in black comedies. Like all Linklater’s films, Bernie is told naturalistically and Jack Black gives the performance of his life.
Take away Black and the film isn’t as good, so it was a genius casting. There’s no simple way to describe Bernie. It’s one of those films you have to just watch and take at face value. It’s not the finest or most impactful film you’ll ever see, but it’s not one you’ll forget in a hurry.
Quoted: “In a small town, people will always suspect the worst of someone. But they’ll also suspect the best.”
Directed and written by: Richard Linklater
Stars: Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, Shirley McClain
Distributor: Millennium Entertainment (USA)
Run Time: 99 min