Bernie is the latest film from Richard Linklater, the guy who directed the wonderful Dazed And Confused. It stars Jack Black as, you guessed it, BERNIE! He plays a portly little fellow that’s literally loved by EVERYONE. He’s a mortician, err, excuse me, as I’m told by the film, they’re called “Funeral Directors” now. So, he plays a “funeral director” who has a certain affinity for the elderly. They all love him dearly, and think he’s just about the sweetest little thing (I hope you read that in a southern drawl). Even the one local haggly ol’ lady, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), in the small town of Carthage, Texas where the film takes place. Even SHE likes him, and she treats everybody like they’re filthy pieces of dirt. Which is where this story that is based on true events starts.
Bernie Starts spending time with her after her husband dies. He sees that she is lonely and that no one likes her, most actually hating her, so he decides to drop by to see how she’s doing a few days after her husband’s funeral, like he does for all the other widows/widowers. She’s rude to him, but Bernie’s a persistent ol’ bastard. He keeps coming back until eventually they forge a friendship, where they eventually start traveling the world together. But soon enough, Marjorie starts treating Bernie the same way she treats everyone else, and Bernie who’s not used to being treated like that snaps and shoots the old lady four times in the back, and then proceeds to hide her body, or um, I guess, preserve it (because he’s a Funeral Director, duh) in a big freezer in her garage. After nine months of lying about where she was to everyone around him, her body is eventually discovered, and Bernie is taken to court by the local District Attorney, played by the infamous Wooderson himself, Mr. Matthew McConaughey. Blah, blah, blah.
You see, my problem with Bernie is that I didn’t find it funny. I found it extremely boring and tedious. I honestly didn’t even want to finish watching it. As I was watching, I kept having the urge to check Twitter or something, just because anything at that point would have been more interesting. The film just slowly trudges along, and never decides if it wants to be an actual film, or a fauxumentary. Or a fauxumentary, with real life testimonials. It’s just so poorly made, and full of so many poor editing decisions. Plus, the dialogue. Ohhhh the dialogue. Richard Linklater said in an interview last year that the screenplay was “a boring read” but that with the southern accents of the characters, it would make it funny. Yeah, that’s not the case, at all. If a script is a boring read, then it’s a boring movie. Would Dazed and Confused still have been as awesome, if it had a boring screenplay? Certainly not.
Now before I wrap this up, I’ll say that if you are not a Jack Black fan, this definitely will not make you change your mind. If you ARE a Jack Black fan, you probably still won’t like it. I also can’t help but feel like Matthew McConaughey did this film simply as a favor to Richard Linklater. Instead of another awesome McConaughey performance from the guy who created Wooderson, we get a boring one note district attorney who only truly has about 15-20 minutes maximum screen time. Of the two films that McConaughey is in at this year’s SXSW festival, I know which one of the two that I would have rather seen.
It’s just a bummer that Richard Linklater made such a great film with Dazed and Confused and never really made another one that reached that level of greatness ever again. There’s a line at the beginning of it where Jack Black is talking about how not to put too much makeup on a cadaver, because you “don’t want to turn grief tragically into comedy”. Dude, Linklater, take advice from your own script. This film just flat out didn’t need to be made. Hollywood doesn’t need it, and Carthage, Texas certainly doesn’t need it either.
I give Bernie 1 shirtless Matthew McConaughey out 5
By Richard Pepper