Sunday, December 2, 2012

Carthage, TX

Movie Review: Bernie

Director: Richard Linklater

Reviewed: 11 November 2012

jamesintexas rating--***

Poor Bernie.  In Richard Linklater's hilarious and deeply sad film set in Carthage, TX (East Texas for those of you out there not fortunate enough to live in the Lone Star State), Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) is a mortician of great promise and care.  He loves his job and loves his town, treating its denizens with grace and kindness.  When Bernie meets the wealthy and widowed Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), they form a sort of symbiosis.  Their relationship does not appear to be sexual; Bernie serves as her assistant, her confidant, her traveling companion, her record keeper.  And then, Marjorie disappears.  Sheriff Danny Buck (the always game Matthew McConaughey) has to circle around and try to figure out what happened and make sense of the stories that Bernie weaves about Marjorie's health and finances.  

Linklater made "Dazed and Confused" in the 90's, a film about a suburban Austin community's culture of high school and rites of passage, and in "Bernie" his lens is on the older members of a community, how their minds are set up, how their provincialism and self-identity affect everything they see.  At one point, the residents of Carthage talk about their neighbors the next county over as troglodytes.  There's a sensitivity with which Bernie's character is handled.  It is clear through one scene on a cruise ship that Bernie is unhappy and unable to express his unhappiness.  Yet, his crimes never seem to outweigh his charisma, and his trial leads to deep, often hilarious divisions within the small town.

Jack Black is flat-out brilliant here, and I hope that he is remembered come awards season.  McConaughey continues to dazzle us this year, and I think that he is wonderful here.  "Bernie" is both a deeply funny and deeply sad movie.  It is deserving of a wider audience.

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