I have been compared to Jack Black a few times in my life. I was a chubby, a rock musician, and a teacher so the “School of Rock,” comparisons were inevitable. I’ve seen many of his films and while I love “Tenacious D,” “High Fidelity,” and “School of Rock,” among some other roles there are plenty of stinkers on his IMDb list. I’d not heard much from friends about Bernie, but I found an unopened copy at a yard sale for $1 and I’d heard positive things about it from some reviewers so I check it out. Knowing very little about this movie, I extremely surprised to see a very unique storytelling style, tremendous performances from Jack Black and Matthew McConaughey, and originally intriguing direction of Richard Linklater landing this into the Must See rating.
Based on a true story in Carthage, Texas, Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) is a likable mortician who befriends a wealthy widow, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), and despite initial enjoyment of her company soon finds himself the object in her possession and seeks to find a way out of her controlling grasp.
I’ve never seen Jack Black play a character like Bernie Tiede. He’s toned down a lot, is able to utilize his talented singing voice, and his charm works perfectly with the story being told. It’s definitely a memorable performance and one that any Jack Black fan should check out. It really takes the best of his ability and puts it on display. His interaction with Shirley MacLaine is great and offers some darkly comedic moments.
The story tellings structure that Linklater opted to use in this film that is based on a true story is extremely innovative. Half documentary style and half dramatized narrative the film offers an interesting story that has the actually opinions of the towns people involved with the real life people that the actors are playing. The interviews are often comical but genuine, and offers insight to the truth of the craziness of the story. The acting is top notch from the toy previously mentioned characters and McConaughey playing District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson really nail the narrative. Not all of the people in the film are actually from the town, but they are blended together in scenes that make the film very unique and extremely compelling.
The documentary style interviews were my favorite part of the film. They look staged and so well shot that my initial impression was that they were scripted. I was extremely pleased when the credits rolled and the townspeople had their names and no character names displayed. This was the first film I’ve reviewed this year where I wanted to do some quick research on the making of the film before I wrote the review. I needed to know that it was actually townspeople giving their real opinions before I could say it. I was not disappointed when I read an article from L.A. Times in April 2012 where Linklater explains his idea to try this hybrid style of film. He says in the article that he struggled to get the film financed with people being skeptical of this hybrid approach, but I’m extremely glad that he did and was able to make this movie the way it is. Some of the best laughs in the film come from the gossipy townspeople and their take on the events in the story.
If you’re looking for an interesting tale that you’ll definitely want to talk about beside the coffee pot at work the next day this one is it. You’ll find yourself likely torn on which side of the story is the right one, or at least shocked at how the townspeople react to the events in the film. I’d advise you not to read anything about this film as it could spoil the truly surprising events within. It is available on Netflix so you’ve got no reason not to watch it.