While browsing the theater listings this weekend, there was nothing worth spending $8 — plus popcorn and a drink — to go and see, so I decided to review a recent DVD from everyone’s favorite crimson kiosk, Redbox.
I chose the delightful 2011 dark comedy “Bernie,” starring Jack Black as the title character, along with Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey.
Based on a true story in small-town Carthridge, Texas, Bernie Tiede is the town’s assistant funeral director and one of the most beloved and involved community members. Dealing in every part of the funeral service, one part of Bernie’s daily musings showcases his above-and-beyond personality: his follow-up visits with recent widows, bringing them flowers, bath salts — not the synthetic drug — and a number of other goodies.
It’s here where Bernie becomes involved with recent widow Marjorie Nugent, one of the most despised people in all of Carthridge. Very cold and stifling, Marjorie surprisingly enjoys Bernie’s company, and he accompanies her on trips all over the world.
After Marjorie’s controlling personality drives Bernie to do something unthinkable, the “Best Small Town in Texas” now has a dilemma whether to hold Bernie accountable or claim that Marjorie had it coming to her.
County District Attorney Danny Buck — McConaughey — does what he can to convince the town that Bernie is a convict and should be held responsible. He even goes so far as to request a change of venue, as he doesn’t believe a fair trial can be held with a jury from Carthridge.
Black’s performance is one of the standouts of the film. During the credits it shows Black visiting the real Bernie in prison, and you can tell Black was able to get a sense of this beloved small town funeral director. As with most of Black’s roles, the talented vocalist showcases his pipes a couple times, which is always pleasant. But most of all, the role shows that Black can play a more serious character, rather than just varying incarnations of the bumbling, annoying, chubby guy in “Nacho Libre,” “School of Rock” and “Be Kind Rewind.”
MacLaine’s portrayal of the prickly Marjorie was hit or miss, with the performance coming off as immature at several points and downright mean at others. It worked with the latter — the former, not so much.
McConaughey’s performance as Danny Buck was pretty uneventful, other than the fact that his Texas accent actually fit with his role for once. It was oddly predictable to see McConaughey in yet another courtroom, with both “The Lincoln Lawyer” and “A Time to Kill” under his belt.
However, one of the most pleasing factors of the film was the realism it portrayed. The first part of the movie felt like a documentary, as real residents of Carthridge describe how cherished Bernie was and how despised Marjorie was. While just about everything in Hollywood gets beautified, it was refreshing to see the actual people who knew Bernie and Marjorie rather than just some no-name extras. After a while, you felt like you knew the two characters through their depictions in a way that would be impossible with a normal script and extras.
Overall, the movie was a pleasant surprise and a breath of fresh air after a middling summer of movies. For me, it was one of Black’s best performances, showing off a wide array of his acting skills.