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Richard Linklater is a director whom I find interesting rather than exciting. Like Michael Winterbottom (whose work I prefer) or Wes Anderson (whose in general I do not), I am usual keen on checking out his latest output, but I can never get myself  to be very enthusiastic about it. The “Sunset”/”Sunrise” trilogy (“Midnight” coming up) I liked a lot, while his recent “Me and Orson Welles” I found a bit dull and conventional in contrast. “Fast Food Nation” was enlightening, “A Scanner Darkly” visually interesting, but I could not conjure up love for any of these (exception “Before Sunset”, but that maybe had to do with me attending a premiere screening with Julie Delpy, who performed at the premiere after-party and got angry at the inattentive drinkers and chatters, well done, Mademoiselle!).

Jack Black is an actor who I shelved in my mental drawer of “Could be an extremely good actor, but why is he wasting his talent on all this nonsense ?”. I never saw a film with him that I loved, but that could not stop me believing in him, so to speak (I am sure he was grateful for my constant support through all these artistically barren, yet certainly lucrative  years…).

Matthew McGonagall (sorry, I did it again… just can’t write his name) by now has become an actor that does not deter me from watching a film. After “Killer Joe” and “Magic Mike”, I start wondering whether everything before was just a big prank, seeking to confuse critics and casting agents. He can be a great and intense actor, and he certainly has a nice Southern drawl.

Now these people of ambiguous record in my own book of appreciation come together and make… a very good film that defies categorization. It is a weird film, with a “hero” who is terribly boring and annoyingly nice in that way small-town middle-aged ladies love. Him being an undertaker with passion adds to the oddity of the film, but only slightly, as it seems to fit perfectly his calm and humble demeanor  he has the skill to soothe the mourning relatives, and he can sing like an angel at the funerals (Black’s singing and dancing in this film is nothing short of spectacular!).

Even the fact that he develops a somehow inappropriate relationship with one of the clients does not spoil his apparent integrity, they are all very nice about him courting an elderly lady (Shirley McLane) who seems to be bedded on gold and ill temper, raising only the slightest suspicion that his motives include digging that gold. The humiliation he has to endure in that relationship should, we (i.e. small-town community and myself) believe, certainly be worth a little compensation (or damages) in the end.

The trick of “Bernie” (to me) is that Bernie is presented as the utterly likable person, while at almost any moment I wanted to shout out what an annoying character he is. That works together well, especially when in a crucial twist of plot the audience is forced to decide whether to still hold Bernie’s candle even though he has done an altogether not very good thing. To me, that act humanized him to a point where I could finally really like him. At the same time, I could start despising all those fellow citizens that stubbornly claimed that either all the rumors are bogus, or that there must be an explanation, or that all these laws and regulations turning against Bernie are rubbish and should be ignored (the “Dick Cheney Negation”, you could call it, but maybe only after you’ve seen “The World According to Dick Cheney”, which I just have).

Jack Black smiles and trots through the film as if he has never been the loud and annoying comedy hardball that he was in so many roles. Low, high-pitched voice and soft, almost floating walk, trousers in general a bit too high on his bulging waistline, he makes a fascinating Bernie, in a fascinating change of style for himself.

Guardian interview with Jack Black


  1. This one really caught me by surprise. The more I think about the film the more I like it. Black is great in this one and as well as McCon*&^%Y. Seriously, I have to retype that dudes name three times whenever I mention him. I wish I could just call him Wooderson. Nice review.

  2. a surprise, indeed… upon reading the plot, I was inclined to run anway from the film, only a couple of rave reviews made me have a look. And then it was a weird and great film experience. Not always easy (I found most people in that film truly annoying), but well worth it.

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