What is Bernie? Is it a documentary? Is it fiction? Is it a re-enactment? It’s a blurred amalgam of all three. And indie icon Richard Linklater navigates the blurred forms to amplify the transcendent straight-faced hilarity of Jack Black’s performance. Set in Carthage Texas the town’s beloved local mortician’s assistant Bernie (Jack Black) strikes up a friendship with the resident cantankerous and extremely wealthy widow Marjorie (Shirley MacLaine). As their friendship deepens Marjorie grows extremely and psychotically possessive and pushes Bernie to doing the unthinkable. What follows is a fascinating, bizarre and agonisingly funny reaction to a seemingly heinous act that steadily had me laughing.
Bernie is ultimately about ‘value’. When the community’s most generous, courteous, sincere, and valuable member does something wrong – the community’s collective distinction between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ mutates into a tribal assessment of said value.
Jack Black is better in Bernie and I think any role that I’ve ever seen him in. He relishes playing such a subdued and authentically slightly askew personality. You can almost see him relishing not playing for laughs. The raise of an eyebrow or intensification of the glance can elicit crazy laughs and changes the entire dynamic of the scene. There’s a ‘straight-faced’ sincerity that guises Bernie’s overt showmanship to the town’s people that made him excruciatingly funny. Matthew McConaughey steals scenes as the town’s D.A Danny Buck – the logical and lone moral barometer in a town committed to Bernie. McConaughey is so great as this outwardly narcissistic Lawyer that has a crisis of self doubt as the town’s collective amorality starts to mutate the bounds of the law.
Linklater mashes traditional narrative filmmaking and talking head documentary accounts of the town and the story to blur the lines between truth and Fiction. Linklater integrates so many non-actors into the narrativised with the strange re-enactment quality. You find yourself fascinated with the prospect of these people really experiencing this strange occurrence and that they were willing to participate in this strange undertaking. It’s timed to perfection and the desperation-infused black satire muddled with nicety and circumstance that you get by embedding yourself into the community and engaging with real people.
Bernie is dark, unique satire heightened by blurring lines between truth and fiction and just about the funniest film I’ve seen this year.
Co- Written by: Skip Hollandsworth Co-Written and Directed by: Richard Linklater
Starring: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey
Bernie is release on Thursday 16th of August 2012 in Australia.