Jack Black is reason enough to see “Bernie”. With subtle nuances he completely and compellingly grasps the depth of assistant mortician, “Bernie Tiede” in 1998 Carthage, Texas; commencing with a devotional master-class on the pristine treatment of a corpse: unwanted hair removal, makeup, creative use of Elmer’s Glue in fastening eyelids and lips; his sculptor’s hands compassionately, wizardly transform the dead into an object of beauty.
A non-fictional tale about Bernie and his relationship with the contemptible, malicious, spiteful, wealthy widow, “Marjorie Nugent” ( stridently, succinctly depicted by Shirley MacLaine); their unlikely pairing progresses from heady, intrepid world-wide adventures to suffocating sycophancy, slavery. He is thirty-nine; she, eighty-one.
The story unfolds in a series of flashbacks (brilliant ploy by director Richard Linklater); the majority of Carthage, male and female, idolize Bernie: in possession of Marjorie’s wealth, mimicking “Dolly Levi” he spreads it, like manure, throughout the community: Church, schools, would- be entrepreneurs. Bernie loves God, humanity; his love requited, unanimously; whereas Marjorie is a thriving misanthrope, despised, called a “snake”, universally hated.
The crux of the scenario focuses on the demise of their friendship; in searching for reasons, answers, the viewer is served some delicious, macabre, hilarious scenes.
Matthew McConaughey is the district attorney, “Buck Davidson”: the blot, tarnish, bane of Bernie’s reputation. His levity is finely balanced with the blindly, over- zealous sentiments of Bernie’s devotees.
Black shines, croons (“Love Lifted Me”); riveting in his sincerity; ambiguous in his sexual persuasion; his hours spent with Bernie Tiede, resulting in a prime specimen of “method acting”, reminiscent of “Brandoesque” potency.
THREE & 1/2 STARS!!!