Star Rating:


Actors: Jack Black

Release Date: Monday 30th November -0001

Genre(s): Factual

Running time: 99 minutes

You just don't know what to expect from a Richard Linklater film. He can veer from the slacker indie classics (Dazed and Confused and, er, Slacker) to more mainstream family friendly ventures (School of Rock, a Bad News Bears remake) to hip romance (Before Sunrise) by way of druggie sci-fi (A Scanner Darkly). So sitting down in front of Bernie you've no idea what to expect, which is exactly what Bernie needs for it to work its magic. A lot of online reviews are giving away too much - don't make the mistake of researching it.

Bernie has an odd presentation. Told for the most part in flashback, these dramatic moments are intercut with to-camera interviews that set the story up. We're in a small town in Texas, a community that either congregates at church or the bake sale and everyone knows each other by first name. All the interviews are about one man - mortician assistant Bernie Tiede (Black), a God-fearing Dudley Do-Right. But what's this? They're all talking about him in the past tense: he was a good Christian, always went out of his way to help you, never said boo to a ghost, etc. Something has gone down, something everyone in town has an opinion on, and over the next ninety-nine minutes or so Linklater is going to slowly tease out what happened and the effect it has had on the community.

It's been called a character study but it's more a study of a town's character, a la Christopher Guest's Waiting For Guffman, and its reaction when life is turned upside down. Black hasn't been better as the effeminate Bernie. He doesn't exactly turn on the serious, like Robin Williams does every time he's asked not to be Robin Williams, but he's not the hell-raising, guitar-slinging motormouth he usually is. A surly MacLaine is a lot of fun too as one of the elderly women Bernie ‘comforts' when a loved one passes on and McConaughey makes with the laughs as the tanned District Attorney Danny Buck.

While Linklater can play the interviews a little too straight at times - sometimes Bernie forgets that it's a black comedy - the oddball nature of it all helps things along. Oh, and stick around for the end credits. There's a wow moment that colours everything you've seen with a different hue.