Sunday, March 10, 2013

Movie – Bernie (2012)

Bernie is a movie I had in Netflix Instant queue for a few months before I finally got around to seeing it.  I discovered that even though IMDB lists it as a 2011 film, it wasn’t released until 2012.  (It was shown at a couple of film festivals in 2011.)  When I was trying to see as many 2012 films as I could before deciding on my Top 10, I noticed that Jack Black had received a 2013 Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical for his performance in this film.  This meant it was really a 2012 film and that I should see it right away.  I’m glad I did because not only did I like this film a lot, I liked it enough to make it one of my Top 10 Films of 2012.  It is easily the best live action film Jack Black has starred in since his last collaboration with writer/director Richard Linklater – 2003’s The School of Rock.

Bernie the movie is a light comedy/drama based on the true story of Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), a consensus much beloved nicest guy in town and wonderful human being, who inexplicably took up company with the consensus most miserable human being in town, older widow Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). 

They met at the funeral of her husband.  Bernie was a mortician/funeral director and as one resident says, “With Bernie doing your service, you knew you were going to get to heaven.”  He would arrange everything, comfort the family, sing beautiful hymns, and give a great eulogy.  He felt like this was his calling – to bring happiness to people in their darkest hour.  Bernie may have met his match in Marjorie, though.  He feels everyone deserves happiness, even her, and he eventually manages to win her over. 

There are a couple of people who don’t like Bernie, though.  One is District Attorney Danny Buck (Matthew McConaughey), a self-promoting egotist in a cowboy hat (this film takes place in Texas).  He “hears things” about Bernie.  He feels Bernie is probably a homosexual…not that that’s illegal.  The other person who dislikes Bernie is Marjorie’s former financial adviser Lloyd Hornbuckle (Richard Robichaux).  He’s a “former” adviser because Bernie supplants him as the one handling Marjorie’s money.  It’s pointed out that Bernie and Marjorie go on many trips together, and that she buys him a lot of gifts.

Marjorie eventually starts to wear Bernie down.  He gives up his job as a funeral director – his calling – to become her personal assistant.  As the movie goes on “assistant” starts looking like “lackey”, then eventually “whipping boy”.  Can even Bernie stand up to this kind of abuse?  And is he really so nice that he will put up with someone no other person will, or is he putting up with her for her money?

Jack Black is fantastic as Bernie.  He plays him in a restrained manner, very much the opposite of his School of Rock character.  Bernie is a true gentleman.  In addition to all of his other virtues he also volunteers putting on musicals for the town.  He organizes them, gets funding for them, directs them, trains the other performers, and stars in them.  It’s a lot of fun to see sometime-rocker Jack Black singing show tunes, including Seventy-Six Trombones during a full dress rehearsal of The Music Man.

MacLaine is spot on as one of the meanest women you will ever meet.  It’s fun when Bernie seems to be melting even her cold heart, but her best scenes are when she lets it all out.  McConaughey continues his great 2012 (Killer Joe – 3 stars and Magic Mike, which I have not seen, but which a lot of women enjoyed).

Perhaps what makes this a really fun film though, are the comments from the townspeople regarding the whole Bernie/Marjorie situation.  Many of them are the real people who were around in Carthage, Texas when the actual events happened, although they have said that their comments were mostly scripted and not off the cuff.  They have some great lines like “there are people in town, honey, that would have shot her for five dollars.”  McConaughey’s mother Kay appears as one of the townspeople.

I have a love/hate relationship with Richard Linklater’s films.  I rarely have an “it was okay” reaction after I’ve finished watching one.  I usually either really like it (i.e. Before Sunrise) or really dislike it (i.e. Waking Life).  In this case I really like Bernie the movie.  As I said at the top, Black does a great job with it.  He gets to show that with the right role he really is a talented entertainer.  While Bernie the movie doesn’t completely wipe out my memories of Nacho Libre and Envy, it does go a long way in helping.  I highly recommend this film.

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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  1. Good review Chip. The performances and the fact that it's a real story are what make this so special. Even the fact that you're able to gain sympathy for Bernie after he kills this old lady, is very strange but smart in the way it makes you think and life at life.

  2. Nice write up Chip, I really dug this film which is sort of strange as it is not really my kind of film. However, I was enthralled with Jack Black's performance. This is certainly a quirky and strange film but it works.

    1. Black is definitely the biggest reason that this film succeeds. He really did a good job in it. Thanks.

  3. I think the thing I liked best about this movie was seeing Black in such a different kind of role. It was the only time I didn't find him annoying. :-) I thought he and McConaughey were excellent in this.

    1. It definitely was a change of pace for Black. That was part of why I liked the movie so much. Just the sight of Black in full costume singing Seventy-Six Trombones really tickled me.