Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Movie with Abe: Bernie

Directed by Richard Linklater
Released April 27, 2012 / DVD August 21, 2012

The poster for “Bernie” sums up its tone perfectly, with an image of Jack Black’s Bernie holding hands with Shirley MacLaine’s Marjorie Nugent on his right and handcuffed to Matthew McConaughey’s Danny Buck on his left. The strange yet appealing “Bernie” is a comedy at heart, with dramatic undertones and real-life events as its premise. This is a film worth watching not to find out what happens or to see how it happens, but rather for the chance to see how its main character operates and what motivates him to commit a murder and go to great lengths to make it seem like it didn’t happen at all.

Jack Black is the perfect choice to portray Bernie, the mortician with a kind heart and a genuine desire to be nice to everyone, regardless of how they treated him. Rather than overplay Bernie, Black delivers a tempered, focused performance as the eccentric, effeminate, seemingly harmless protagonist. He works well opposite MacLaine, who channels such lifelong aggression and cruelty into Marjorie Nugent, the wealthy widow who takes a liking to Bernie after his kindness following her husband’s death, and McConaughey, who has fun crafting an over-the-top law enforcement official with a penchant for theatrics.

“Bernie” is framed by interviews from residents of the small Texas town where Bernie worked and ultimately killed Marjorie. The enthusiastic presentation of the town and its people is the film’s greatest asset, since it creates a feel and establishes a setting in which a person like Bernie fits right in without seeming out of place. It’s fascinating to get to know Bernie and to see him interact with his neighbors, who love and adore him unconditionally. Danny serves as Bernie’s sole detractor, the one man desperate to single him out and show the world that there was something off about him.

Bernie’s story is a peculiar one, and this cinematic interpretation does a fitting job of telling it in a way that makes sense. It’s almost too outrageous to be true, and though the film is fully entertaining and engaging for its entirety, it never quite tries to explain Bernie and who he is, opting instead to introduce him as the man most thought him to be rather than digging below the surface to learn more about him. As a movie, however, “Bernie” is a fun and intriguing experience, offering certain entertainment with an underlying dark side.


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