ARIZONA REPORTER




Harvey Critic - 03/05

REVIEW: BERNIE


If you've ever joined in a bull session during your second year of college, you'll recall that one of your most sophomoric debates was centered on the topic, "Everyone, nobody high nice, has a breaking point," or, in other words, "Civilization is not much more the skin deep, hanging by a thread" (to mix metaphors). Here's a great example. In 1997, one Bernie Tiede, the nicest man in town, one who thought nothing of himself except as a vehicle for helping others, committed a first-degree murder. The town is Carthage, Texas, an upscale community in a state that can be divided, or so one of the participants in "Bernie" had said, into five provinces. (As one of the many gags in this genuine treasure of a restrained comedy, a resident being mock-interviewed states that one of those provinces is the People's Republic of Austin, the home of girls with hairy legs and of liberal fruitcakes.)


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BERNIE
Millennium Entertainment

Reviewed for Arizona Reporter by Harvey Karten

Grade: A-
Director: Richard Linklater
Screenwriter: Richard Linklater
Cast: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 4/16/12
Opens: April 27, 2012

Richard Linklater, known for such riotous documentary fare as "Fast Food Nation" and for "The School of Rock" which features Jack Black in his best role, is at the top of his form, using the kinds of mock interviews made famous by Christopher Guest when that actor-writer-director satirized loud rock bands ("This is Spinal Tap"), small-town theater ("A Mighty Wind") and suburban dog shows ("Best in Show"). Yet the mock interviews in the marvelous "Bernie" bypass the dreaded talking heads intellectuals in real docs, giving actual people in the town, not actors, the chance for fifteen minutes of fame by their wise, funny, and un-rube-like commentary.

Jack Black plays against type in that he does not consciously milk comedy as he did in "The School of Rock." But, let's face it, you can't look at the man without laughing, "Bernie" finds Black in the title role as a funeral director who rivets audience attention in his very first scene as he explains to a group of student morticians how to do a perfect job with a cadaver. Simply hearing Black demonstrate with utmost seriousness that the eyes must be glued shut and ditto the mouth lest a toothy smile "turn tragedy into comedy" is uproarious. (I have no idea whether an actual corpse is used for this demonstration, but if not, the actor should be considered for a Best Corpse Performance of the Year award as he does not breathe though the camera is focused on him for several minutes.)

Revered by his boss for drumming up business not only in dressing bodies but in pushing high-end coffins on the grieving, this angel of a man who sings with a church choir and as director and leading man in a local rendition of "76 Trombones" takes an interest in the town's multimillionaire widow, Margie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). As the first person who has shown this widely-disliked person any kindness, Bernie works his wiles on the widow to such an extent that she treats him to first-class trips abroad and nights at the opera. Bernie gives up his job at the mortician's to become her full-time companion. When Margie becomes too demanding, treating him like a pet rather than a friend, Bernie does a slow burn until he is ultimately enraged enough to shoot her in the back four times. The D.A., Danny Buck Davidson (Matthew McConaughey) in wide aviator glasses is so certain that the town would acquit the well-liked man despite his confession that he gets the trial moved to a different county.

Shirley MacLaine, who deserves and is getting major roles in the movies (she is in seven works currently filming or in pre-production), is underutilized: her casting is spot-on as is that of Jack Black. Mr. Black is perfect as a middle-aged man of ambiguous sexuality who nonetheless stirs gossip that he is the rich widow's gigolo. The many interviews of local people-not actors-are scripted exquisitely, their commentary ranging from going down easily to outright hilarity. Lavish scenes like that of the dress rehearsal of "76 Trombones" like the rest of this compelling comedy make this a show you'll not want to miss.

Rated PG-13. 104 minutes. © 2011 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online.

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