Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine team up in this scarcely released and criminally overlooked demi-mockumentary
Film Title: Bernie
Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Jack Black Shirley MacLaine Matthew McConaughey
Running Time: 99 min
It looks like a southern gothic and feels like a particularly hilarious farce, but Bernie is not at all what you think. The thing about Richard Linklater’s splendid 17th feature is that it’s one of those films that are best watched cold. Watch closely through the end credits, armed with no prior knowledge, and this deliriously dark comedy appears even smarter than you first supposed.
If, however, you’re unprepared to put down this compelling soaraway section of the newspaper, then we’re prepared to reveal that Bernie stars Jack Black (never better) as the twinkling bachelor mortician of the title. Bernie’s dedication to his craft and his old-fashioned southern gentleman manners brings no little delight to the older women and widows of Carthage, Texas. Follow- up calls and bunches of flowers arrive months after Bernie has completed his work. The locals, in turn, adore him to an extent that, by the final act, will have legal consequences.
Enter the Dragon Lady in the menacing form of Marjorie (Shirley MacLaine), a demanding millionairess who treats Bernie with the same contempt she lavishes on everybody else. We’re as surprised as the curtain-twitching townsfolk when Marjorie and Bernie become something of an item; we’re even more surprised by what happens next.
Linklater’s scarcely released and criminally overlooked demi-mockumentary boasts tremendous performances. Black deservedly received a nod from the Golden Globe committee for his work here (even if he was ripped off by the Academy). The director’s old pal Matthew McConaughey pops up with killer comic delivery, MacLaine leaves you jonesing for more MacLaine. The veteran actor doesn’t often grace us with her presence, but this is a pretty special role and a pretty special movie.
Bernie is a classic Linklater joint: the Austin auteur’s eye for the ludicrous details and mannerisms of small-town Texan life is matched by his fondness for the same. In this spirit, watch out for the extras and the folksy local commentary: it’s telling you more than you think. We’ve said too much.