BERNIE. Starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey. Directed by Richard Linklater. 99 mins. Rated M (Mature themes and violence).

Adult audiences should find Bernie an interesting and entertaining film.

However, it is best to go into it knowing as little of the plot as possible. There are several very well portrayed character developments.

The film is both comic and serious, the work of director, Richard Linklater, who has had a successful career in independent and smaller-budget films. Matthew McConnaughey worked with him in one of his earliest films, the slacker comedy, Dazed and Confused. Jack Black worked with him in one of his most popular films, School of Rock. Linklater also made the romantic-conversation films, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.

It doesn’t hurt to know beforehand that this is one of Jack Black’s best performances. He throws himself into the part without the manic energy that we usually associate with him. He is Bernie personified, even to his stance, his way of walking, his mannerisms. He is a funeral attendant, a fussy but kind man, a little prissy with some dismissing him as a sissy. But, his concern for clients – and for everyone – means that he is very popular in the small Texas town where he lives.

Linklater has based his film on a true story. He also uses the device of having the townspeople give to-camera interviews and testimonies about Bernie. Some of these are very funny, with quite some criticism of Texas, its traditions and attitudes, a mixture of the sardonic and the affectionate. We welcome the testimonies and enjoy Bernie seeing Bernie show how true they are.

The other main character in the film is Mrs Nugent, the widow of a wealthy self-made banker who is gruffness and meanness personified, Mrs Nugent that is. Shirley MacLaine can do mean disdain and imperiousness with no trouble at all. At almost 78, she is portraying an 80 year old woman. In the photo of the actual Mrs Nugent at the end of the film, she looks far kinder than Shirley MacLaine does. Bernie treats her well and she takes a shine to him. The actual Bernie seems a very nice man too.

The other main character is the sheriff, played by Matthew McConnaughey as a good ole Texas boy, someone who dislikes Bernie and casts aspersions on him.

That is probably as much as a review should say, an indication of themes, of treatment, of characters, of tone – and leave the plot itself to please and surprise.

Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.


Out August 16, 2012.

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