Castle Rock Entertainment
Now Showing at: Esquire Theatre AMC Newport on the Levee
Review by: Larry Thomas
Indie filmmaker Richard Linklater, who is best known for his debut feature Dazed And Confused, and a pair of romantic comedies Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, is back on the big screen after a three-year absence with Bernie. No, it has nothing to do with Weekend At Bernie’s.
Most film fans are familiar with the Christopher Guest mockumentaries, such as Best In Show and Waiting For Guffman. Linklater uses a similar style for Bernie, but meshes it with the tone of one of the many reality-based network shows such as “Dateline NBC,” to tell this odd, but true, story.
Jack Black plays Bernie Tiede, an assistant funeral director in a small town in Texas. He is everyone’s idea of a perfect citizen, and endears himself to the community through his work and good deeds. The older ladies in town especially adore him.
To tell you any more would be unfair to your journey of discovery in this tale of Bernie. Although it takes a few minutes to get going, once you’re hooked, you’re hooked -- first, by the story itself, and then by the career best performance by Jack Black. Not only is he letter perfect in the role, but also I would not be surprised to hear Oscar buzz for him come next year. Although I haven’t seen his previous collaboration with Linklater, the hit film School Of Rock, they obviously connect on several levels as director and actor. The role of Bernie requires singing, and Black is more than up to the challenge.
Shirley MacLaine is the widow of one of Bernie’s clients, and reputed to be the meanest woman in Texas, if not the world. She doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but makes the most of every minute. Also having fun with his role is Matthew McConaughey as Danny Buck Davidson. He’s part of the ongoing Greek chorus offering commentary as the story unfolds, as well as being a character in it.
And speaking of the chorus, the people shown commenting on the action in this story are many of the real-life residents of that Texas town. They add a distinct edge of authenticity to the proceedings, as well as being a breath of fresh air from the usual roster of Hollywood players.
So what kind of movie is Bernie? Is it a comedy? Yes, sort of. There’s humor throughout, but generally the big grin kind rather than belly laugh kind. Is it a drama? Yes, sort of. There’s tragedy involved. So I guess it qualifies for that hybrid genre known as “dramedy.” But however you care to label it, Bernie is worth your time if for no other reason than to discover that Jack Black is one terrific actor.
However, you’d better hurry. The PG-13 rated Bernie is now showing at the Esquire Theatre, but the other two locations, the Rave West Chester and AMC Newport on the Levee, are starting their second week with only three showings daily each, which is a sure sign that it will be gone by Thursday in those two venues.