Friday, March 22, 2013

MAD, Day VIII: Bernie (2011)

Bernie isn't exactly a documentary, because it's been reenacted by some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. It's not a mockumentary either, because many of the real-life Bernie's friends and associates are being interviewed throughout the film. Only, Matthew McConaughey is being  "interviewed" as the local district attorney like the real interviewees, so the line between what is authentic and what's not often becomes hazy.
Directed by Richard Linklater, creator of cult-favorites like Slacker and Dazed and Confused, Bernie is based on the true story about a funeral home directer who murders a nasty and wealthy widow (Shirley MacLaine) who he  became emotionally bound to after the death of her husband, and financially bound to after she promised him her entire estate following her death. Can't imagine why he killed her. Nuh-uh.

Bernie (Jack Black), aside from being a funeral home director, is a jack of all trades who's talents are more widespread than Donnie Osmond's, and is just generally loved by everybody he meets. If Shirley MacLaine's fantastic performance is any indication to just how mean and awful Marjorie Nugent really was, then I will join the Free Bernie campaign myself. Bernie is liked so much and Marjorie was hated so much that even when he openly confesses to shooting an old lady four times in the back with an armadillo rifle, the community chooses to pretend it never happened, that is, until the case went to court. 

It should excite me that I was pleasantly surprised by Jack Black's performance, but it only made me more frustrated because it is probable that his next starring role (besides the inevitable Kung Fu Panda sequel, which has a strong fan base) will suck. The one after that, too. 

The film has a similar structure to Dateline on NBC – we are introduced to a seemingly wonderful and kind man who's totally not capable of murder, and, whaddya know, he totally pushed his one-legged grandmother in the pool to collect her summer house in the Bahamas. Every now and then, we will also hear the opinions about it from people who have virtually nothing to do with the situation, other than usually being in a 10-mile radius of the accused. 

Unlike Dateline, however, the night doesn't end with the audience taking a fully-clothed ice cold shower before drinking themselves to death because of the massive cliffhanger every goddamn episode seems to leave us on. Seriously, Dateline, would it kill you (Get it?) to give tie up just one episode with a solid conclusion?

Ahem, anyway, no, the ending isn't at all ambiguous, not even for a second. Aside from being based on a true story, the plot summary on Bernie's IMDB page reads: 

"In small-town Texas, the local mortician strikes up a friendship with a wealthy widow, though when he kills her, he goes to great lengths to create the illusion that she's alive."

Since we are aware of the film's (arguably) biggest climax from the start, the only questions that are left to ponder are when, why and how, as we wait for Bernie to finally lose his shit and snap.

Bernie is certainly a lot of fun, if you can appreciate a lot of the great dialogue (both written and improvised). Action-wise, there is not a lot going on, so this might draw some people away. But Jack Black delivers one of the most under-appreciated performances of the year, and even McConaughey is worth sticking around for, and the film might go on record for being his first performance without, not even once, taking off his shirt. Props!