Next on Netflix: ‘School of Rock’ graduate
Most of us think of Jack Black as either the teacher in “School of Rock” or as the voice of the title character in “Kung Fu Panda”—all goofy, lovable, childish roles.
But in the black comedy docu-drama “Bernie,” Black shows that he can play a complex and moving role without a single guitar solo or fluffy animal.
“Bernie” tells the true story of Bernie Tiede, a mortician beloved by the townspeople of Carthage, Texas.
Bernie is a sweet, generous and deeply religious man who is always happy to help others, including the most hated woman in town, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine).
After Marjorie’s husband dies, Bernie takes it upon himself to visit the stingy and prickly woman, and they become good friends.
At first, it seems as though Bernie has changed Marjorie for the better.
She begins attending church again, becomes less tight with her money and loosens up and begins having fun in Bernie’s company.
But it isn’t long before she starts taking advantage of Bernie’s kindness, and starts treating him like a slave.
Bernie is too nice to tell her “no,” and so he bottles up his anger and frustration until he absolutely cannot take it any more.
Finally, one day he snaps, and shoots Marjorie to death.
Despite the fact he has killed her, most of the townsfolk don’t hold it against Bernie.
They know he is a kind person who only cares about others, and some even assert that Marjorie deserved to be killed for her abuse toward timid Bernie.
But Bernie still must face justice—and the process of making it happen becomes more complicated and gut-wrenching than anyone expected.
The film combines interviews with real people who lived in Carthage at the time, fake interviews with actors playing primary characters (such as Matthew McConaughey as the hard-ass Texan district attorney Danny Buck Owens), and scenes acted out.
It’s all blended together well, and the story of Bernie’s chronology flows at a lively pace.
Every major character is given humanity and sympathy.
Marjorie is icy and tight-fisted, but the movie shows her tender side, and that she honestly did care for Bernie.
Danny Buck Owens wants to imprison the good-hearted Bernie, but he also refuses to be turned biased by Bernie’s personality, and wants justice to be served for a murdered woman.
Best of all is Bernie himself.
He has committed a horrible act, and then tries to cover it up, but his desire to put others first, serve God and engage with the community is evident.
Jack Black gives Bernie many layers, and his performance turns from hilarious and adorable to heart-shattering on a dime.
Anyone who wants to dismiss Jack Black as the goof from Tenacious D needs to watch “Bernie” immediately.