Directed by Richard Linklater. Starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey. Rated PG. Opens Friday, June 1, at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas
It’s time to invent an Oscar for most adorable murderer. That is an important category to consider while watching Jack Black—sporting the world’s proudest, roundest tummy—play an endearing, odd little man driven to a (debatably) dastardly deed in Bernie. (Just think about all the people you’d like to choke the life out of and what a nice person you are.)
Besides Terrence Malick, Richard Linklater is surely one of Texas’s finest exports. The Dazed and Confused writer-director is back in Lone Star terrain with an eccentrically funny, truth-is-stranger-than-fiction tale with a smattering of real-life folks who knew the real-life Bernie. It would be cool just to shoot the shit with these great gabbers.
Bernie Tiede (Black) is the dapper assistant funeral director in the town of Carthage. He performs in community theatre, hosts the Mrs. Senior Carthage pageant, dotes on lonely widows, is much beloved, and is quite possibly gay. In an irresistibly bizarre turn, Bernie hooks up with not-so-beloved, wealthy widow Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). Murder most strange follows.
It would be terribly easy to go over-the-top kooky with this. Instead, the film is weirdly sweet, with gothic vibrations and a Coen brothers’ darkness. Black, ingeniously cast, wears his pants up high on that Teletubby physique and sings and dances in Guys and Dolls with a beguiling joy. MacLaine can do killjoy with a look. Oh, and Linklater cohort Matthew McConaughey is the murder-sniffing DA with a strut ’n’ drawl one wants from a dude named Danny Buck.
Carthage, with its twangy gossips, is totally Linklater’s kinda town, and that’s a lovely thing for us, too. Incidentally, they scorn the neighbouring town because it’s the “squirrel-hunting capital of the world” with “more tattoos than teeth”. Awesome.
Watch the trailer for Bernie.