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"Bernie" Review

Jack Black's schtick has rubbed me the wrong way for several years now, but he manages to overcome his worst tendencies in his reteaming with School of Rock directer Richard Linklater for the weird little dark comedy/drama/documentary Bernie.

Based on a true story, Black plays the titular Bernie Tiede, a mortician in Carthage, TX who is so beloved in the small town for his kindness, generosity, and all-around civic good citizenship that when he is revealed to have murdered the nasty town battleaxe (Shirley MacLaine) and has confessed to the deed, no one in the town wants to see him punished, eventually forcing glory-hogging DA Matthew McConaughey to request a change of venue to have a shot at getting a conviction.

Linklater uses a mix of dramatization as well as pseudeo-documentary style "interviews" with townsfolk to lay out the story of how this odd man would be able to beguile a town into giving a pass for whacking a rich old lady. It's interesting to see how Texans view other Texans in such a large state, especially when the trial is moved, but Linklater (who was born in Houston) manages to not come off as sneering at the people of this town. Black is fully committed to his performance and never stops to wink at the audience any contempt for Bernie either. (In the coda detailing what happened to everyone after the story ends real photos of Bernie and Majorie Nugent are shown as well as video of Bernie in prison; the camera swiveling around to show Black listening in such rapt attention that you'd think he was listening to Santa tell about the North Pole.)

Sure, there are some petty anachronisms - the real case happened in 1996, but a recent MacBook Pro laptop and iPhone are shown - and the "How accurate is this 'true story'?" question (pretty, it appears) nags somewhat, but it's still a worthwhile curio to check out if you can. The script is full of quips like, "Bernie was so nice and Majorie was not nice. Not nice. She was evil." It reads dry, but kills in the delivery.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable.


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