movies: Jack Black’s at his best in Bernie .....................

Shows fact is stranger than fic­tion, writes of

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - PLAY CONTENTS -

BERNIE is a one-of-a-kind movie that es­tab­lishes its own tone, walk­ing a thin line be­tween se­ri­ous­ness and ab­sur­dity. Set in eastern Texas, it al­lows di­rec­tor Richard Lin­klater to ex­plore his own roots while telling a re­mark­able real-life story, some­thing too crazy for any­one to make up.

The film is based on the story of Bernie Tiede, who made head­lines about 15 years ago.

And let’s say no more than that. Read noth­ing else about this movie. Ev­ery de­scrip­tion out there, it seems, gives away the first half of the story.

There’s no bet­ter way to ex­pe­ri­ence the movie than in com­plete ig­no­rance, en­joy­ing its ev­ery weird turn.

As played by Jack Black – this is the most pen­e­trat­ing and de­tailed work he has ever done – Bernie is a fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ter, an as­sis­tant funeral di­rec­tor with a way of mak­ing ev­ery­body feel spe­cial. He sings at ser­vices, com­forts wid­ows, vis­its the lonely, buys peo­ple flow­ers and choco­late.

He is about the nicest guy on Earth, cer­tainly the nicest and most pop­u­lar guy in Carthage, Texas.

But he also has a qual­ity, just a hint, of some­thing else. This is where Black’s per­for­mance goes to the next level. There’s a sug­ges­tion of a dark­ness, or an un­hap­pi­ness, a slightly cov­ered qual­ity.

This is not to say he’s a phony – that would be too easy. He’s not a phony at all. He re­ally is a lovely guy, but he’s not show­ing you ev­ery­thing.

Cer­tainly, one thing he is not show­ing you, and yet you can guess, is that he is gay. He’s clos­eted and not sex­u­ally ac­tive, but he has a gay essence about him, which Black con­veys, but gen­tly. Per­haps his ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity is a source of pain, with his evangelical back­ground, or per­haps it’s some­thing else.

In any case, there seems to be a wound in this guy. Again, Black doesn’t show it, but he lets you see it. This is a very rich char­ac­ter. You can see this movie, then talk about Black’s per­for­mance for the next hour.

Shirley MacLaine plays the rich­est, mean­est woman in town, a lonely widow who takes a lik­ing to Bernie and starts tak­ing him on hol­i­days.

MacLaine doesn’t do the things you might ex­pect with the role. Her way of play­ing mean here is lowkey, in­ward, dis­gusted and im­pa­tient. MacLaine knows there’s a hu­man be­ing in there, too, un­der­neath it all – but maybe too far un­der­neath.

The third strong per­for­mance is that of Matthew McConaughey as the town pros­e­cu­tor.

It’s a nice char­ac­ter turn for McConaughey, who plays the pros­e­cu­tor as the smartest fish in a small pond, who thinks he’d be just as smart in a big pond, but we see oth­er­wise.

Lin­klater, who co-wrote the script with Skip Hol­landsworth, tells the story by in­ter­spers­ing straight scenes with in­ter­view scenes, set in the present, in which towns­folk look back on events.

These in­ter­views, which are lively, feel off the cuff, but they were scripted. They al­low Lin­klater to give the flavour of the lo­cal hu­mour.

That hu­mour is dis­tinctly south­west­ern. As one of the lo­cals, Kay McCabe – who is Matthew McConaughey’s mother (and you can see where his looks came from) – gets one of the movie’s bet­ter lines: ‘‘Honey, there were peo­ple in this town who’d have shot her for $5!’’ And then, of course, there’s this mi­nor clas­sic: ‘‘Her nose was so high up she would drown in a rain­storm.’’

Tak­ing into ac­count the rich per­for­mances, Bernie is one of the best films so far this year.

opens to­day.

Shirley MacLaine and Jack Black star in orig­i­nal and in­trigu­ing true-crime drama

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.