Bernie is the kind of comedy that makes you wonder whether there’s something wrong with you or not. When you pick up a film that masquerades itself as a comedy you expect to laugh at least once, even if it’s just a mildly amused-sounding snort of approval. Bernie tiptoes along that line that separates blunt black comedy from bleak drama to the point where the film is very difficult to laugh at.
Based on a true story, Bernie is a well loved funeral director in small-town Texas, the kind of do-gooder who’s sweet, kindly nature you can’t help but love. With a deep passion for giving the deceased the burial they deserve, he sets out to console all the widows and widowers he comes across in their time of need. Bernie strikes up an unlikely friendship with a wealthy widow who is disliked by the town and her own family, and eventually they fall into a romantic relationship often questioned by the town’s people. When her smothering, possessive hold over him finally takes its toll he snaps and kills her and goes to elaborate lengths to create the illusion that she is still alive.
Bernie‘s story is told in a docudrama style with scenes of his relationship with widow Marjorie Nugent interspersed with the views and opinions of the town’s people. It’s worth mentioning that all the people in the film are actors, and not the real people affected by Bernie‘s story. Great lengths were taken when researching for roles particularly by Jack Black who visited the man he would be portraying in prison and the actors are all very well cast, their performances feel believably authentic throughout. The casting choice is perfect with none of the actors fitting the Hollywood film mould. This not only gives the film an enthrallingly independent, raw feel but also aids the authenticity with the characters coming across like real people throughout.
The interviews that break up the main narrative are somewhat distracting, particularly if you pick out the film with the intention of watching a lighthearted black comedy that’s easy to digest and enjoy. Said interviews come very close to being extremely frustrating and while it’s easy to appreciate the reason behind the decision to tell the story that way and its consequent effect of authenticity, it does almost ruin the main story which becomes difficult to get in to.
The film does have a very unique style to it which makes it an interesting watch. While the interviews do at times detract from the main story it is an interesting technique that allows the audience to analyse all the sides of the story and make up their own mind about Bernie and whether or not he was guilty. Jack Black proves his diverse acting ability playing the role of caring people person Bernie. In a role unlike anything else he’s done Jack Black appears to be right at home as the camp funeral director. The cast are all talented actors but are lesser known and are no longer ‘current’ which works brilliantly, again making the film feel much more authentic and not like a Hollywood flick with a bunch of ultra attractive, famous actors and actresses. The choice of authenticity and substance over Hollywood style is definitely a good one.
Bernie is a weird little film thats story is told in a very interesting way. Some will love it, some will hate it, but the film does one thing well and that’s representing a true story properly with tact and authenticity. The film lets you make up your own mind about Bernie and his sentence through honest views of the people around him and doesn’t mediate the viewers perception of the story. A nicely shot, brilliantly well cast but ultimately very odd film Bernie can’t really be called a comedy, rather some form of docudrama that feels like one of those ‘true-life’ TV shows.