Bernie is based on the true story of a crime in Carthage, Texas.
Yes. An 81-year old lady was murdered and it is a tragedy. In this case, the tragedy is such an odd case that it’s hard not to laugh in places and smile through most of the story.
I suppose we shouldn’t be laughing or even smiling about such things. But writer/director Richard Linklater’s movie is very good, and it’s hard not to laugh.
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Teamed with legend Shirley MacLaine, Jack Black — who once in awhile actually shows he can act — plays Bernie. MacLaine is the widow he befriends. Matthew McConaughey is the town prosecutor, Danny Buck.
Here’s the story. Bernie Tiede is everybody’s best friend. Generous. Kind. Loving. And just a little eccentric. We’re are led to assume he’s a gay assistant funeral director who befriends, then eventually takes over most of the affairs — including the finances — of a cranky old widow. No one — not even her family — likes the woman.
She does — however — have lots of money and that money becomes Bernie’s undoing.
You can’t really say Jack Black is brilliant. He’s one of those uber-charismatic actor/comedians you can’t help but like. Here, he’s actually quite good. Slapping on his best used-car salesman smile, Black slips nicely into the character from one great line after another to Bernie’s near robotic mannerisms. When Black moves, his legs are in motion but everything else moves like a block. It’s as if the man’s limbs and head have no hinges.
Black’s mannerisms and delivery help sell the character, but it’s the chemistry between the actor and MacLaine that gives the movie its spark and charm. Early scenes where the two people are friends are exceptional.
MacLaine — of course — is brilliant. We’re always buzzing about how good Meryl Streep is and raving about this new, beautiful actress or that. We tend to forget just how good some of the women we rarely see any more were and are. MacLaine is one of them. If anything, Bernie is worth the price of a ticket just to see her perform on a big screen again.
And then there’s the way Bernie is done.
Shot in mock-documentary style, Linklater (Before Sunrise, After Sunset) tells the story of Bernie’s crime in chunks. His presentation is so good that at times you almost imagine the actors portraying the townfolk aren’t actors. Addicts of true crime channels will appreciate Linklater’s effort. All Bernie needs is a narrator, a commercial break or two and you’re there.
My research indicates that most of what you see is true. That also adds to the appreciation of this small, very, very, well done movie.
Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, Shirley MacLaine
Rated PG-13 for mature themes. It’s playing at the Carmike 12.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.