Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Catching up with 2012: Bernie

Richard Linklater’s Bernie has a ceaselessly entertaining opening 30 minutes, but then it devolves into something that the opening sequence could never portend: normalcy. Bernie loses steam after its fantastic opening, which includes a fantastic introduction to our main protagonist Bernie Tiede (Jack Black). Bernie is a funeral director (“No one uses the word ‘mortician’ anymore” explains Bernie) who we’re introduced to as he gives a lesson to a college class of future funeral directors on how to prepare a corpse. Bernie is a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to funeral directing: he dresses the corpse, sells the coffins, designs the funeral parlors so they “seem more holy,” and even subs for the pianist when they’re nowhere to be found (one of my favorite moments of the movie, and a natural fit for Black). Whether it’s the aforementioned musical performance from Black, the moment when he sells a coffin to a couple (upselling them so he won’t have to make a “leg adjustment” because the coffin the couple really wants is too small), or the way he stages a live-action PSA for driving drunk for teenagers outside of their high school (my favorite moment: telling the kid playing the dead teenager not to laugh as Bernie lifts him up on the gurney), Bernie is worth seeing because of how Linklater uses Jack Black.

Bernie belongs to Black. Yes, Shirley MacLaine as Marjorie Nugent, the wealthy widow Bernie befriends and moves in with (despite the uneasiness of the surrounding Carthage, Texas community), is great; Matthew McConaughey is also great as Danny Buck, the DA that prosecutes Bernie for the murder of Marjorie, especially in the scenes at the end during the trial; and the costume (Kari Perkins) and production design (Bruce Curtis) feels spot-on and of its place – the film still is worth your time if only to see Jack Black’s best performance and to see him work for a filmmaker that really knows how to utilize his talent.

Linklater isn’t making some kind of snarky film, here. There seems to be a love for this little pocket of Texas – away from the “hairy-legged women of Austin” and the Mercedes driving citizens in Dallas as one character explains – which has a real small-town southern charm to it. However, Bernie begins on such a high note that as the film progresses and settles into its normalcy, we begin to notice the air is slowly leaving the balloon. McConaughey helps keep things afloat for a bit, but I was just disappointed after the film’s amazingly off-beat and hilarious opening 30 minutes that film settled into a “normal” narrative. Still, it’s worth a view, but it could have been so much more than it ends up being. 


  1. Interesting. I was very engaged for about 10 minutes, then started to lose interest, and then got interested again around the 30 minute mark (if I remember correctly). It's not a meaty picture, but certainly worth watching.

    Glad to have you back writing. I've been reading along.

    1. Thanks, Jason. I think you're spot-on when you say that Bernie is "not a meaty picture." I enjoyed the film throughout, but I felt like there was something more there lurking beneath the surface. The film had a kind of Errol Morris feel to it at the beginning, but for me it just kind of settled into a normal movie...good...just normal.

      Thanks for checking these out. More to come once I'm on winter break.