Bernie12A ¦ DVD
Director Richard Linklater and Jack Black have previous together, working as they did on 2003's box office hit School of Rock. Hoping to recreate that recipe for success, they teamed up for this project, based on a true story. But sadly as far as these two are concerned, the only thing they've created this time around is a lumpy, uninspiring mess.
After having a slight dalliance with religion as a career, Bernie Tiede (Black) settles on a more sombre path as a mortician and assistant funeral director in the small-town community of Carthage, Texas.
Bernie seemingly doesn't have a bad bone in his body, and soon becomes a well-loved member of the community. Everyone in town knows him for being a truly considerate and thoughtful person, and are not surprised when he befriends gnarly, bad tempered, recently widowed 81 year old Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine); if anyone can see the good side in someone, Bernie can.
It certainly didn't harm that she was a millionaire, who was happy to spend her money on Bernie. But although she would take him on luxurious holidays around the world, many felt that Bernie deserved it all simply for putting up with her despicable behaviour towards him.
And although they weren't a couple – many defined Bernie's relationship to Marjorie as being her companion – Bernie endured a fair amount of mental abuse. So much so that Bernie simply snapped one day and Marjorie got what many considered her comeuppance. Not that anyone in town was aware that anything had happened to her though, as Bernie managed to convince everyone that everything was still fine up at the old Nugent house.
Considering the intriguing story behind this film, it seems to be abundantly rich in material for a comedy. But Linklater doesn't have a history for comedy, and boy is that fact evident here. At times it feels as if Linklater would have rather made a documentary about these real events, even going as far as including actual members of the Carthage community giving their reactions to Bernie and his actions. And the fact is, it would have worked far better as a documentary, as he fails to inject any comedic aspects into the film.
Even having the likes of Jack Black involved you'd expect the odd laugh, but Black is resolute in giving a sincere performance throughout, but possibly stays too true to his character. It doesn't help the cause that he bursts into song far too often too.
So without making a full-on comedy, or a documentary, Linklater is caught short in a cinematic no man's land, with a film that's bereft of any discernible features. Despite having source material perfect for dark humour, Linklater has simply died on his feet with this one.