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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Bernie (Reviewed by Ben)

If you’ve ever had an odd craving to see what happens when Witness For The Prosecution  meets Napoleon Dynamite (crammed into the format of a mockumentary) - or just want to see something really weird - the Richard Linklater-directed oddity Bernie is definitely for you.

This film has the quirky, very very dry humor that many loved about the redheaded loser of Napoleon woven into a plot that reminded me of the Billy Wilder’s famous courtroom drama (though at first you’ll be convinced you’re watching A Mighty Wind).

The movie begins with an odd, dark and funny collection of people talking about how perfect undertaker Bernie (Jack Black) is. It eventually talks about his unlikely “friendship” with an older, unpopular woman in the town (Shirley MacLaine) as the kindness that people associate with Bernie ends up being his downfall.

The woman, named Marjorie Nugent, ends up using this angel of a funeral director as her servant. As he becomes her property, the locals being interviewed start talking about how he changes before we see this “good man” finally snap and kills Marjorie. Realizing what he’s done, he hides her in a freezer and tries to convince the town that she’s still alive. When they finally find her on ice, it looks bad for him. When they find out she left her whole estate and fortune to him, despite her large family, it looks worse. You’ll notice the Witness similarities again when Bernie’s tried in court where everyone loves Bernie, but no one believes him.

Within the Might Wind style documentary format, it was dull, and kind of creepy how people think about murder as more of an entertainment. But surprisingly, there were some very complex good-guy/bad-guy ideas that are bound to surprise you as Jack Black jokes about death while selling someone a coffin, dances the big number in“The Music Man,” or carefully brushes up a dead body.

Similar to Adam Sandler, people either love Jack Black or think his branch of humor is an insult, and that he lacks real talent that other comedic actors like Steve Carell or Billy Crystal posses. But this movie lacks in toilet humor and stupidity found in Kung Fu Panda and the cringeworthy Gulliver’s Travels, allowing Black to be funny in a way that demonstrates real acting skill. He keeps himself reserved, which makes the movie even funnier, as does his brilliant singing and dancing ability.

What does it say that my grandmother recommended this movie? Probably that this family loves weird concoctions of film. And Bernie has proved that that can pay off.

Dad Replies - I’m with you that the film gave Jack Black (who I can’t stand when he does his loud and obnoxious routine) the chance to blend a subdued performance with screamingly funny song-and-dance routines.  In fact, I would have paid to see the entire production of Music Man that you caught a glimpse of in Bernie.  

Apparently all those personal recollections that punctuate the film came from actual locals who were around when the real life crime the movie was based on occurred.  This helped blur fiction and reality in some interesting ways, although I thought those interviews could have been integrated a bit more sparingly.

So while Bernie is a big of a hodgepodge - part comedy, part courtroom drama, part real and part faux documentary - it was fun to enjoy with the family a film in which everyone involved took a chance. So thumbs up (and thanks for recommending it Mom).

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