‘Bernie,’ reviewed by Marshall Fine


Richard Linklater has made a career of defying expectations, making everything from “The Bad News Bears” and “School of Rock” to “A Scanner Darkly” and now “Bernie.”

“Bernie” might be his most unexpected film yet. Based on a true story about events and people in a small Texas town in the mid-1990s, “Bernie” is a dark joke with a straight face – and the surprising deadpan in this movie belongs to Jack Black.

Yes, Black, one of the most interesting actors of the past decade or so. Since emerging in “High Fidelity” and “School of Rock,” Black seemingly has squandered his talents on films like “Year One,” “Be Kind Rewind” and “Gulliver’s Travels.” But he possesses a compelling presence which resonates with serious material, when he’s given the chance to show what he can do. (See “Margot at the Wedding” for proof.)

In “Bernie,” he plays Bernhardt Tiede, assistant funeral director in the small Texas town of Carthage. As described by the real residents of Carthage, Bernie was someone who everyone thought the world of – the kind of guy who made a funeral into a memorable and moving experience, even for those who didn’t know the departed.

He sings in church, acts and directs in community theater, visits the sick and has a cheerful word for everyone in town. Yet his social life is something of a mystery – at least until he befriends the town’s richest widow, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), after the death of her husband. Suddenly, Bernie and Mrs. Nugent are inseparable, involved in all of Bernie’s activities, while traveling the world together.

No one says anything, however, because no one likes Mrs. Nugent, the meanest woman in town.

This review continues on my website.

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