Image: courtesy of Millennium Entertainment.
Image: courtesy of Millennium Entertainment.
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“It’s like nothing Jack Black’s done before, and it proves that an actor can be a miraculous thing in the right role.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times

Year: 2011
Country: USA
Running time: 104 mins
Censor Rating: M - violence

Producers: Richard Linklater, Ginger Sledge
Screenplay: Richard Linklater, Skip Hollandsworth
Photography: Dick Pope
Editor: Sandra Adair
Music: Graham Reynolds

With: Jack Black (Bernie Tiede), Shirley MacLaine (Marjorie Nugent), Matthew McConaughey (Danny Buck), Brady Coleman (Scrappy Holmes), Richard Robichaux (Lloyd Hornbuckle), Rick Dial (Don Leggett), Brandon Smith (Sheriff Huckabee), Larry Jack Dotson (Rev Woodard), Merrilee McCommas (Molly)

Festivals: London 2011; SXSW, San Francisco 2012

Reunited with his School of Rock director Richard Linklater, Jack Black has his best-ever role and meets it with inspiration and amazing restraint. Playing a real-life, world-famous-in-Texas character (you can see Black meet him if you stay for the credits) he provides a wonderfully full portrait of a closeted small-town guy who has sunk his enormous personality into round-the-clock, upbeat, apple-pie niceness. Blessed with a golden singing voice, attentive to anniversaries, generous with gifts, Bernie Tiede was an assistant undertaker so popular with the old ladies of Carthage, Texas, that when he confessed to murdering one of their number, nobody in town was prepared to listen. And if he did it, they say, victim Marjorie Nugent (a sour, purse-clutching Shirley MacLaine) had it coming.

The fun is in the details and the way Linklater kids the notion that Bernie = community spirit. An East Texas native himself, Linklater has enlisted actual townspeople to provide pungent opinion and unreliable commentary in a mock-doc fashion no sane outsider would contemplate. Matthew McConaughey as the county prosecutor looks great in a Stetson and cuts a scathing dash through the protestations of Marjorie’s defamers and Bernie’s fans. — BG 

“Black sings, dances and charms his way around a character whose larger-than-life personality almost demands parody. Yet the wonder of Black’s performance here is its empathy and balance: inasmuch as he can disappear into any role, he dissolves into this one with no hint of mocking remove. It’s a beautiful thing to see… Shamelessly predisposed toward its subject, Bernie is an eccentric delight.” — Jeannette Catsoulis, NPR

REVIEW: The Lumiere Reader - Jacob Powell (29 July 2012) 

NZIFF STAFF PICK: Natalie Gilberd

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