Friday, May 18, 2012

 

Bernie

Bernie If you think you know what super-glue can do, think again. I bet you have never seen its application in a mortuary lecture during the opening scene of director Richard Linklater's wickedly funny new film "Bernie" (USA 2012 | 104 min.).

The lecture is elegantly given by the film charismatic and happy-go-lucky protagonist—assistant funeral director Bernie Tirde (Jack Black), from a small town called Carthage in Texas.

Bernie is not only taking care of the dead, he is better known and beloved by the living, except the straight talking sheriff (Matthew McConaughey). The whole town seems unable to function without Bernie's presence. He is irresistibly kind and charming. He sings in a church choir and at funerals, he directs and acts in plays, he coaches children's baseball team, he provides help to the needy, and he visits grieving relatives of the deceased to deliver his sincere comfort.

One of his recipients is Mrs. Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), a grumpy hateful wealthy widower that you would find people in town to shot her for $5. But, Bernie is able to win her heart over. Not only Bernie is hired as her full time personal assistant and her world travel companion (in first class, no less), he becomes her only beneficiary and he has access to all of her money after she cuts off all of her families and relatives.

Is it a romance or a con-artist scheme? Everybody seems to have an opinion about their relationship, and they are not shy from airing it. No matter what they believe, the only thing that is certain is that it doesn't end well.

Shirley MacLaine and Jack Black in BERNIE

The bizarre tale is actually based on a true story, and the film is very much like a documentary itself. It consists many talking heads, many of them are actual Carthage residents who are not professional actors.

They surely can talk a lot. However, they talk nothing like the characters in director Richard Linklater's previous films such as "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset." People in this film are mainly gossiping, although there is nothing wrong about that. These interviewees speak candidly to the camera, with a thick southern accident. Their lively chatters bring many unexpected hilarious moments to the film. It's absolutely entertaining if not amusing.

I am not a big fan of Jack Black's comic style in general. However, in this film, he is perfectly constrained, and he never tries to be funny. The usual goofball completely vanishes in this Bernie character. He is comfortably in control almost in every scene. He is Bernie.

Bernie is likable no matter where he goes. Unfortunately, that personality also paves the way to his doomed destiny.

"Bernie," a Millennium Entertainment release, opens on Friday, May 18, 2012 at Bay Area theaters. It was also shown earlier at 55th San Francisco International Film Festival.


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