Generally comedic and surprisingly upbeat, Richard Linklater’s twisted take on the true story of a killer in Bernie may leave audiences defending murder.
The storyline progresses through interviews with the animated community of Carthage, Texas, in documentary style. Candid and outspoken, the eccentric townspeople humorously describe the life of assistant funeral director, Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) and his questionable relationship with wealthy, elderly widow, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine).
While production values like costumes and soundtrack are minimalistic, in keeping with the motif, this film is captivatingly driven by the actors’ performances.
Seemingly genuine and compassionate, Black portrays Bernie in the most gentle fashion; from the considerate way in which he comforts mourners by singing Gospel, to his effeminate stride as he walks back to his cell. Nevertheless, however convincing his rendition may be, there are moments in which the actor casts doubt on the innocence of the character he is interpreting.
As he playfully chats with a young, attractive, male staff member aboard a cruise ship, his behaviour borders on flirtatious even though he is said to be “accompanying” Marjorie on this trip.
The eerie look on Black’s face before he emotionally drops to his knees and begs the Lord for direction after shooting Majorie, followed by a cutaway to a buoyant rehearsal of a musical number, amusingly suggests that perhaps Bernie is not as harmless as we’re made to believe – which adds greater depth to the plot and his character.
With so few lines, MacLaine’s mannerisms actively recreate a woman worth hating through her solemn facial expressions, unpleasant demeanor and incessant chewing. Alarming yet telling, MacLaine’s most profound performance comes to life as she throws a tantrum when Bernie doesn’t attend to her needs right away. Crying and stamping her feet as Bernie pulls away in his car, she yells “I know you hate me like everybody else!” – and then uses a remote control to close the gates before he can leave the property, whispering, “You’ll never leave me.”
Undercut with irony and an unexpectedly lively depiction of District Attorney, Danny “Buck” Davidson from Matthew McConaughey, Bernie is sure to be disturbingly entertaining.
Bernie is released on 26th April 2013.
Watch the trailer for Bernie here: