The titular character Bernie is played by Jack Black in a low-key, subtle comedy that is unusual for the uproarious actor. Directed by Richard Linklater, who made the town musing film ‘Slacker’, this is a homage to the antics and gossip of a small town. The focus is on assistant funeral director, Bernie. A boisterous and overwhelmingly friendly personality, Bernie is a magnet to the old ladies of the Texas town Carthage. He checks up on the widows he’s consoled with after there husbands death. He brings food and cookies, flowers and smiles. Overall, the town thinks Bernie is an entirely optimistic and wonderful human being. And he is. But when a sudden criminal act swoops over him, surprising even himself, the town starts to talk more.
At first I was a bit ambivalent with the whole structure of the movie; It consisted of dialogues with people all around the town about various topics, usually about Bernie and the people he talks to and the things he is involved with. But It does become first-person Bernie, though not all the way. It’s like a comedic documentary, and the ‘criminal’ events and Bernie are true people. We see at the end of the film a photograph of Jack Black sitting across from the real Bernie.
Jack Black’s performance is one where his own movie ‘personality’ is set aside. In Bernie, the comedy comes only from the character written by the screenwriters. Black must find comedy through looking glass of such a different, energized character. He uses enthusiasm and double-chin comedy to express the character. His pants are pulled above his stomach and his voice is a tone higher than usual.
The casts of town folk interviewed are real, with a sort of mockery that seems signature to Linklater’s style. One women is bizzarely shaped with yellow, jagged teeth. She says nothing: just laughs and jiggles as her companions gossips. There is an old man with a trucker hat, explaining things like ‘Bernie never acted like a man’. Each one adds a punch to the perception.
Matthew McConaughey takes up a role in the film, and fills it well as a small town Lincoln lawyer. He always adds solid comedic spice with an airhead persona; he is fighting against the belief of the town and attempting to prosecute Bernie for his crimes. He tries to poke fun at Bernie in court, but fails with self-deprecating wit, only revealing his own stupidity.
The movie is a funny, but emotionally resonate exercise in small-town observation. It features a career-lifting performance from Jack Black and a cast of hilarious, stereotype heavy characters.