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Bernie
Genre Comedy
 
Review:

Jack Black is an irrepressible jack-in-the-box and pent up ball of energy ready to explode. At least, that's how most of his characters come across - making him funny, outrageous and supremely entertaining. When he does tone his performance down in something more sedate, we notice. Bernie is one of those films, reconnecting Jack Black with School of Rock director, Richard Linklater, to tune into his sweeter side in a remarkable true story.

Bernie Tiede, a small town mortician, was a very popular man in the small Texan town of Carthage. Friendly, sweet-natured and generous, he was heavily involved in the church and local upliftment programmes, making him a firm favourite among locals. So much so that when he befriended a wealthy widow and murdered her, it was almost as if he had cast a spell on the townsfolk.

Bernie is a dark comedy that would be best described as a true crime TV documentary in the style of Christopher Guest. Bernie echoes the work of Guest's improvised comedies: Best in Show, A Mighty Wind and Waiting for Guffman. The documentary style interviews with locals set the scene as we get to know the lead characters unpacking a series of questions surrounding the crime. There's even a touch of Wes Anderson's Rushmore, portraying a sweet, naieve and likable character, whose misguided pursuit for love and acceptance in a closed environment lands him in a predicament.

We're immersed in the culture, introduced to Bernie by the sympathetic locals, before the real story plays out. Jack Black plays Bernie like a mixture between Poirot and well, Jack Black. He's sweet, round, well-mannered, effeminate and courteous to the point of murder. Black manages to keep a lid on his energy, channeling it into the business of his character, who seems intent on turning the film into a musical.

He's supported by Shirley MacLaine as Majorie Nugent, who plays a shade of what's become a regular character outing for her. She's tempestuous, bitter and largely despised by her counterparts, who are only too quick to tell it how it is. It's a rather thankless role and antithesis for the charms of Jack Black, which eventually makes way for another good turn by Matthew McConaughey as self-appointed chief justice and District Attorney, Danny Buck.

Jack Black's composed performance as Bernie and Richard Linklater's ode to the work of Christopher Guest and Wes Anderson give this comedy class. The film's 'based on a true story' tag line grounds it, dulling some of the comedy and creating a strange small town tension around the nature of the crime with a bunch of colourful commentaries from locals.

Bernie is character-driven and we derive enjoyment from the details, customs, wardrobe, state of mind and sense of humour of Carthage. The blot of murder on Bernie's clean sheet reputation show how a popular gentleman's lifetime of good deeds blur the lines of justice. It's an entertaining, sharp-witted, fascinating and sympathetic character study into the life and times of a irrepressibly sweet and seemingly innocent man.

The bottom line: Charmed


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