Unpopped Kernels: Bernie (2011)

You know growing up I used to think Jack Black was the shit. Lead singer of Tenacious D, star of School of Rock, and all round funny guy, there was nothing stopping this man from completely ruling my world. The problem is, as I grew older that love gradually turned into irritation. Especially when you realise that it is seemingly in Black’s contract that he has to sing or make stupid sounds in order to complete his cinematic roles. So when movies such as Gulliver’s Travels, and even the upcoming Jumanji sequel, pops up, you are so exhausted by his presence that the movie becomes absolute tripe.

Then he turned to independent comedies such as Bad Bromance and Bernie was released and we are ever thankful that he did. Because he is genuinely a brilliant dark comedy actor.

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Directed by Richard Linklater, Bernie is based on the true story of mortician Bernhardt “Bernie” Triede. A kind soul, Bernie was much beloved in his small town of Carthage for his sensitive and caring ways. At the funeral of her husband, Bernie meets Marjorie Nugent: a cantankerous old woman who is wildly disliked in the community. After she lavishes him with money and gifts, the pair enjoy a close friendship, but her true nature starts to grate on him. More importantly, she starts to become controlling and abusive towards Bernie. One day, he snaps and kills her, using her money to invest in charities and projects across town. But will Bernie’s deadly secret be found out?

First of all, Linklater (who has worked with Black before on School of Rock, arguably his best work,) has envisaged a world and a telling of this story that is quaint at first but soon unfolds to be this great tantalising black comedy pulled along by the impressive performances. Linklater really hams up that small town feel, in this almost mockumentary film. With some films, that irritating Deep South community feel just slathers on this sickly wholesome layer; yet with Bernie, Linklater uses the chorus of the elderly to punctuate what could easily be a stupidly simplistic story; making Bernie’s killing feel more like a collective agreement rather than an actual murder.

It helps that Black is somewhat ingenious in bringing this true life character to the big screen. He manages to encompass everything about Bernie; the polite mannerisms, the earnest need to help and that sense of community care all while holding back on making Bernie a caricature. In honestly, it is one of Black’s best works because he is so different; becoming this man who is pushed to the edge by rude and unkindness. Linklater certainly helped evolve Black’s acting this way. And playing opposite the new and improved Matthew McConoughey and the old favourite Shirley McClaine, the end product of Bernie is an irresistible treat.

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While the slow pace may not appeal to all and those so done with Black’s antics wouldn’t even glance its way. The comedy isn’t laugh out loud, but it sits on a white picket fence of sickening droll. Bernie is an unearthed gem that is enjoyable as it is intriguing. Like the supporting characters within the film, many might poke fun at the rather lonesome Bernie and his suspicious friendship with Majorie, there is no denying Black’s capabilities to breathe life and likeability into him.

Bernie is available on Netflix! 

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