The main conflict scene provides Jack Black a vehicle to show off some of his acting chops which may come to a surprise to some, but this dude can act.
Let’s get this out of the way straight away. Jack Black’s finest display of acting prowess is his 1996 Oscar nominated performance in the critically acclaimed blockbuster Mars Attacks in which Black stars as a plucky upstart U.S. Army soldier who valiantly attempts to defend the planet from the evil martians and in doing so, allows Pierce Brosnan to see less screen time. Knowing this, I entered viewing the 2012 hit film Bernie with confidence that Jack Black would shine bright as the lead role. Ladies and gentlemen, Jack Black surpasses his stunning performance in Mars Attacks by a considerable sum in this charming and very funny film.
Directed by Richard Linklater and co-written by Richard Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth, Bernie was recently nominated for Best Feature of the Independent Spirit Awards. I had intended to watch this movie when it came out in August but life got in the way and it sat unwatched on my laptop for nearly three months. I wish I would have viewed it when it came out so I would have this wonderful movie in my memory for that much longer. It was so good, my wife sat down half way through the film and loved it despite the fact she had no idea what was going on. So how did this film get this reviewer to blush in admiration? Dark comedy. A healthy tablespoon full.
The narration of the film is truly what makes it stand out amongst other films. Much of the flow and plot of the film is delivered by the people of Carthage, Texas where Bernie is set. The titular character, Bernie Tiede, played by a wonderfully in character Jack Black, is an assistant funeral director with a healthy appetite of generosity. He literally is the most well liked and respected individual in the entire town of Carthage. When he is not donating his time for the high school theater club or the local youth baseball league, he is helping various townsfolk with odd jobs and tasks. Bernie is loved by all. In act one of the film, the people of Carthage sit interview style in front of a camera and tell their favorite Bernie Tiede story. The film used a large amount of support characters and where many films have too many support characters that hinders their lead role’s command, Black utterly commands the screen even when he is merely the subject of Carthage’s stories. The state of Texas is itself a subtle character in the cast, as well as the townspeople who are unintentionally funny in their Southern gentry ways. Throughout the film, the support characters deliver some extremely funny lines in lieu of the dark situation unfolding in front of Bernie Tiede’s eyes.
The conflict arises when Bernie is taken advantage of for his genuine friendliness by a cold old woman named Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). Bernie loses his freedom as Mrs. Nugent becomes dependent on Bernie and starts to smother him. The audience watches as Bernie slowly starts to become a caged bird looking for a way out. I won’t give away much more plot other than it’s a dark comedy because this film would suffer in my eyes if the audience knew too much about it. The main conflict scene provides Jack Black a vehicle to show off some of his acting chops which may come to a surprise to some, but this dude can act. He becomes Bernie Tiede in a way only an actor who conducted lots of research could do. Black was unsurprisingly nominated for an Indie Spirit Award for Best Male Lead for this film. I hear some of you asking, “Well, does he sing in it like all of his other films of late?” Yes, yes he does. But not in a forced way like in his world renowned performance in the mega blockbuster super hit Nacho Libre which grossed over 6 trillion dollars. The singing done by Black in this film is very organic and it fits perfectly with the film because it’s what Bernie Tiede would have done.
I loved this movie. I could see this movie going down as one of the best dark comedies of recent memory. I don’t even really have anything bad to say about it. It is possible that someone may not “get” the film but that is no fault of Bernie. That’s the uneducated yokel’s problem. Some viewers may find the beginning set-up to be a bit dry, but the humor pays off in the end.