DVD Review: Bernie
There has been some buzz about this little dark comedy, but it wasn't until Jack Black was nominated for an Golden Globe and I found out Matthew McConaughey was in it that I finally sat down to watch it. Right now it's available on Netflix streaming if you want to catch up, and I suggest you do. There are movies that tell a story that exposes part of a story, and there are movies that try to tell the whole story. Bernie is the former while it is trying to be the latter.
Jack Black is Bernie, an assistant funeral director in Carthage, TX (East Texas they clarify), that is pudgy, kind, has a beautiful voice, and takes care of his clients and their bereaved families. He is beloved in the community and he seems to enjoy befriending (very platonically) elderly widows. One of those widows is Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) who is very wealthy, and universally detested in the community. However, Bernie wants to be her friend and eventually she lets him. Unfortunately, she really is a bitch, becoming controlling and manipulative and eventually verbally abusive to Bernie and the rest of her staff. One day Bernie can't take it anymore and shoots her in the back with a BB gun. He's devastated, but hides her body and spends the next 9 months running her life without her - donating money to the community, to a tune of almost half a million dollars. Eventually, he is caught, confesses and goes to trial. However, the community so loves Bernie for being a genuinely good person that they won't convict him and the Sheriff Danny Buck (McConaughey) has to get the trial has to be transferred to another area to seek justice.
The description of the plot is simple and explained in the first few minutes. It's getting to that point and understanding the depths of the story that are what is interesting. The filmmakers "interview" everyone in town, getting their opinions of Bernie, Marjorie and the story itself. That's where much of the humor comes into the story. My only big complaint is that we don't hear from Marjorie or Bernie themselves. It's a description of the story rather than the story itself. We do see the story unfolding, but only as other people described it. It's a really interesting method of story telling, but you're left at the end feeling like you don't quite understand what happened. Jack Black is amazing in this role - he has to balance a genuine emotional connection to people without becoming a caricature of a closeted gay man taking over the community. He seems genuine all the way through the film - all the way through the shooting, which seems necessary and redeemable at the time.