'Bernie' is Black, Black is 'Bernie'

It doesn't get too dark, but Richard Linklater's latest will charm you most of the way through.


Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey
Length: 104 minutes
Studio: Castle Rock Entertainment, Collins House Productions, Deep Freeze Production, Detour Filmproduction, Horsethief Pictures, Mandalay Vision, Wind Dancer Productions
Year: 2012
Distributor: Millenium
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violent images and brief strong language
Release date: 2012-08-21

Trailers are the death of more movies than I can count. Whether it’s a comedy with all the funny lines given away in two minutes or a drama with the crucial twist thrown out there early, previews have the power to ruin a good flick just as they attract viewers to it. Many of my fellow film lovers have adopted a strict “no trailer” policy, closing their eyes and covering the ears before movies in the theater while actively avoiding them online. I'm far too weak to do it myself, but I wish I could.

If I were stronger, perhaps I would have enjoyed Richard Linklater’s latest Texas-set comedy Bernie a little more. Instead, I watched every preview flashed in front of me and thus got the gist of the quirky, truth-based tale before I sat down to fully engage with it. I was then impatient for events to unfold and disappointed once they did. Most of it was no one’s fault but my own.

The film is not without its charms – Linklater imbues Bernie with some uniquely funny visual touches, Jack Black pulls off an adequate transformation from the foul-mouthed screw-up he usually plays, and the blend of real-life characters with professional actors really works out well. Linklater plays around with his framing and introduces some lively (and random) animation to elevate the mood early on, and continues his experimentation throughout. It’s a fun, low-budget approach from a director known for trying new things – and succeeding.

The film, like most movies with the lead character’s name in the title, rests heavily on its lead’s shoulders. Thankfully, Black has the dramatic chops, for the most part, to carry the weight. There are certainly times, especially early on, when Black comes off as inauthentic. Bernie is just so overly friendly and kind he’s hard to take seriously. Eventually he wins you over, and Black’s bold choice (or genuine impersonation) to stick with the kind demeanor all the way through pays off in some emotionally challenging late scenes.

Mixing real-time events with reflexive people from Bernie’s real-life past was a truly brilliant touch from the veteran director. What really helped him pull it off were the wonderfully eccentric locals who provided enough colorful commentary to make Werner Herzog jealous. Perhaps just as impressive, though, is how Linklater blends them in with the actors. I couldn’t tell the difference (you know, except when Matthew McConaughey sits down in front of the camera), and that’s a testament to everyone involved.

If anything, the director is a little too fascinated with his subjects – the film drags on 15 minutes past its best stopping point and then misses its climax by the same amount of time. It’s nothing too intolerable, but it draws attention to one of the film’s more general flaws. The story itself isn’t quite perfect. Yes, it’s true. Yes, it’s a little odd. The finalé, however, leaves something to be desired even if it is true. It’s a small arc in a small movie about a small town – the timeline just needs to be more sharply focused.

The DVD, with a fancy foldout slipcover, comes with three featurettes and deleted scenes. It would have been nice to listen to Linklater’s commentary track during the movie, but it’s hard to complain when what’s included is so grand. Sure, the number of bonus features isn’t high, but the quality more than makes up for it.

There’s a six-minute segment focusing on Jack Black’s performance, complete with interviews of the cast and director as well as only a few choice clips from the film. Then there’s a nine-minute featurette on how the true story became a feature film. It’s nothing extraordinary, but it’s nice to know that most of the film was accurate, and there’s some trivia tidbits that prove to be worth hearing.

Finally, the gem of the extras is the 13-minute montage of audition tapes. No, this isn’t Jack Black or Matt McConaughey. It’s a handful of the citizens of Carthage talking about anything their hearts desire. You simply cannot get enough of these people, and it was a pleasant surprise to get an extra helping after the movie.

They also list “previews” as a bonus feature. Don’t hate me for skipping those, though. I was trying to be strong.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.