I love a good crime movie; it’s one of my favorite genres. The main problem with recent crime movies is that they lack originality. The crime genre has become very formulaic. They go from A, to B, to C and everything in between is predictable or just awful in some cases. Most of the newer crime movies that I have liked have been entertaining, but offered little beyond that. It was a joy to see Bernie – an original, interesting, thoughtful and funny crime movie. It is easily one of the most originally different movies I’ve seen in quite a while. Bernie isn’t your usual crime story. Actually, if you didn’t read anything about it before you saw it, you wouldn’t know it was a crime movie at all until the first twenty-five minutes or so. Do yourself a favor and do not see the trailer. It gives away too much and it doesn’t do justice to how great of a movie it really is.
Bernie’sstory unfolds in such a way that if I tell you too much it would spoil it. I went in “cold” – not knowing what to expect and having seen no previews – and I feel that’s the best way to see it. So, avoid plot summaries and trailers if you can. Here’s a basic summation of the plot. In the small, rural town of Carthage, Texas, assistant funeral director Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) is the town’s most beloved resident. He teaches at Sunday school, sings in the church choir and goes out of his way to be helpful to everyone. One day Bernie befriends Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), an affluent widow who is as well known for her sour disposition (that’s an understatement) and her large fortune, as Bernie is for his good nature. Their friendship quickly evolves into a much deeper relationship. Marjorie becomes dependent on him. Her grip on him is a little too tight and Bernie starts to feel “trapped.”
Richard Linklater, the director and co-writer of Bernie, was in a difficult position. It was a tricky project. It could have gone in so many different directions. He could have gone all serious. But the story is so strange that it might not have worked to their advantage. Plus, Jack Black in a 100% dramatic role would seem like a fish out of water. The direction could have gone all comedy. That, I think, would have seemed like they were disrespecting this bizarre, but true story. The perfect balance was struck, in my opinion. Linklater took the black comedy route. The way in which he intertwined humor and drama was nothing short of fantastic. And what makes the story even more interesting, and adds an aura of reality, is the way it is told. It’s told in a documentary style with interviews of various townspeople inter cut (Woody Allen type style) between scenes of the movie – adding different perspectives on development. The pacing of the movie was extremely well done and kept me enthralled and engrossed from start to finish.
The screenplay was superbly written by Skip Hollandsworth and Richard Linklater. The humor was spot on throughout. Every character, at some time or another, had his or her share of laugh-inspiring moments. A “funny line” or two fell flat, but for the most part they were all written so well and delivered with such impeccable timing that I was laughing or chuckling a good part of the time. What surprised me, though, was that the movie deals, quite effectively, with some thought provoking aspects of the story towards the end. It doesn’t go very deep, but it explores human nature farther than I expected.
The acting is outstanding from everyone. All the supporting characters do their job well. The main three performances are flawless. Jack Black has never impressed me as a great actor, but he easily gives his best performance to date. Jack Black mixes comedy and drama fabulously. The role is demanding; it requires Black to play with many personalities. He is convincing and, most importantly, I bought him as that character. I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing this role as effectively. Matthew McConaughey hits it out of the park. He delivers his lines so well. The laughs just kept coming and coming from him. His serious type stuff is good, as well. After watching McConaughey fail to be funny in most of his recent movies, it was a breath of fresh air to know he was back. I always thought he was a great actor, but it seems to have me in spurts. Shirley MacLaine redeems herself from being in Valentine’s Day a few years back. She nails every aspect of her character.
Bernie is some sort of wacky masterpiece. If you look really hard you can find a few little flaws here and there. A couple of things toward the end could have been tweaked to make the message more effective. Plus, in the begining, the exposition goes on a bit too long where it has you worried that there’s nothing beyond that. Also, I could see how this could offend the real people in the story. I saw Bernie two times and I only noticed those things. The first time you watch it, you are so engaged that you don’t find anything that makes you dislike it in any way.. For all practical purposes, it’s almost as flawless as a movie can get. This is easily one of the best movies of the year so far. I am disappointed that it didn’t get promoted more. How can someone not like it? It’s so funny. (I love the scene where they describe different parts of Texas; I’m from Texas and it rang so true!) The story keeps you involved and it even raises some tough questions. Plus, you want to re-watch it immediately after you see it the first time. Go seek out this gem of a movie, you won’t be disappointed.