LFF Film Review: Bernie

Bernie is playing at the BFI London Film Festival on 22/10/11 and 23/10/11.

Directed by Richard Linklater

Starring Jack Black, Shirley MaclLaine & Matthew McConaughey

Jack Black and director Richard Linklater reteam after the sublime School of Rock for dark comedy Bernie, but is it a joyous reunion? Bernie tells the true story of Bernie Tiede (Black), a small town funeral director who becomes very attached to widow Marjorie Nugent (MacLaine) until her years of smothering him begin to take their toll. Bernie snaps and murders the woman. The film raises interesting questions on what should be done when a genuinely good man does something wicked, but is that enough to carry a motion picture?

Linklater seems to borrow from TVs recent trend of talking heads within a fictional multi camera set up, we are shown interviews from actors portraying the real life friends and neighbours of Bernie. Whilst these are easily the funniest parts of the film they draw the viewer out of the story, the docudrama style just doesn’t work for a story this outlandish. It may have been better if the interviews were with the real citizens of the small Texas town in which this is based, but with actors something is just lost. The film believes it is far more dark than it actually is, it aims for a Burn After Reading style of quirkiness and dark humor but it never really reaches that goal, often feeling like a lesser Coen work (Intolerable Cruelty).

McConaughey and Black both play against type very well (though Black gets in a fair amount of singing as usual) and they carry the movie well. It might be noted that Black seems to be doing an impression of Eric Stonestreet from Modern Family but as always Black is so captivating on screen that it doesn’t really matter. Shirley MacLaine is wonderful too, in what is easily the finest role she had in years. That said, despite all the terrific performers all the memorable moments (of which there are few) come from the supporting cast that populate the small town.

With all the great talent behind the film it is a shame that it’s not better. It’s a fine piece of work, one that I would happily watch again if I came across it on TV. Its biggest problem is that most of the people involved can do better, it is far from the great works that Linklater, McLaine and Black have offered us before… then again, for McConaughey it’s pretty good.



  1. How did you see it in March? Linklater was still cnuittg it a week before it premiered last month at the LA Film Fesival. He showed a rough cut to a film class in Austin a few weeks earlier. Were you there for that?

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