Film Review: Bernie

I always find it amazing how films just seem to vanish, how films manage to create an cloud of invisibility and how when you actually start looking at which films specific actors have been in, movies appear that you’ve never heard of or realised even existed. Nicolas Cage and Bringing Out The Dead is a prime example. As is Bernie.

You’d have thought that a film that is only 3 years old, stars: Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey and Shirley MacLaine and is directed by Richard Linklater would have made more of an impression on the world than it has. In fact, I only discovered it by pure chance, I just happened to be driving up a motorway the exact morning Chris Evans and the BBC 2 Radio 2 Breakfast Show were discussing it. And it was purely, Chris Evans’ enthusiasm and passion for it that made me decide to search it out and watch it. I didn’t bother with the trailer, I didn’t read an reviews. Solely on the basis of a radio DJ saying it was brilliant, I purchased the DVD.

Jack Black & Shirley MacLaine - Bernie

So, with only a fleeting plot synopsis from my radio listening and the always positive one line reviews on the box, I set about watching it. Essentially, the film is the recounting of the true life tale of Bernie; an undertaker who becomes involved with a rich, widowed lady who grows to ultimately control his every move and the events that unfold as he tries to break her ever tightening grasp.

Because it’s based on a true story, it’s been put together in the style of a documentary, with narrative plot interwoven with interviews from the “town folk” and it makes it a hard film to really connect with. It created a sense that you’ve been presented the facts rather than told the story and as a result, the film feels very cold and detached. It doesn’t help that they have mixed the “talking heads” interviews up, so some are actors playing a role to help narrate the tale while some are the actual towns folk who lived through this tale recounting events and because the distinction between the two is never made, you never fully trust the story or the characters. Somehow the movie feels false, as if it is almost pretending.

Jack Black - Bernie

The casting doesn’t really help it either. Jack Black is very good in the lead role, but it’s a part that doesn’t really ask much of him that you haven’t seen before. He’s the over the top, slightly cheesy does a bit of singing character that echo’s Dewey Finn from School of Rock. Sadly for me though, as a child of the 1980s and 1990s who enjoyed the WWE at its height when the Ultimate Warrior, Bret “The Hitman” Hart and the Undertaker were in their prime, I just couldn’t look at the image, the haircut, the little moustache and see anybody other than the wrestling character Paul Bearer!

This film pre-dates the renascence of Matthew McConaughey, and falls very much into the category of slapstick, as McConaughey looks throughout large parts of the film to be almost plastic in appearance. His image, true to the style of character he is playing just looks wrong. It just doesn’t suit him. And you cannot believe in him as a character, actor or person as a result. And so, when you combine McConaughey’s and Black’s completely ludicrous styles this film just oozes more and more of a sense of being nothing more than a parody. A farce.

Matthew McConaughey - Bernie

And that’s sad, because the story underneath it all actually is quite intriguing and potentially entertaining.

The one thing about this film that does ring true though is, while I can’t put my finger on it properly, it really does feel like a film that has been directed by Richard Linklater. It is a world removed in seriousness from the “Before” trilogy of films but in the same way you can pick an artist from his brushstroke when comparing a dark portrait to a pastel landscape, you can see the feel and flavour that Linklater brings to his work that never lets you forget who is calling the shots.

I’m somewhat disappointed by Bernie. As I stated at the start, I only learnt about it and sort it out to view basis solely on the overly positive and glowing review and discussion while listening to the radio. The actual film I was treated to just never managed to satisfy me. It never felt sure of what it was and it never really drew me in or kept my attention. If I’m 100% honest, I wouldn’t bother recommend it.

If you want to see Jack Black perform search out School of Rock and if you want to see Matthew McConaughey at his best, look for anything from 2014!

6 out of 10 stars (6 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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