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September 10, 2012 | by  | in Arts Film |
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Review – Bernie

Ever since the travesty that was Gulliver’s Tales, I’ve been reluctant to see another Jack Black film. However, the pairing of Black with School of Rock’s Richard Linklater gave me hope that together they might produce another entertaining romp. Unfortunately whilst Black provides probably his best cinematic performance yet, Bernie turns out to be a confused and underdeveloped film.

Based on a true story from the American south, the film follows the eccentric Bernie and his relationship with the bitter widow, Marjorie Nugent, which quickly takes an unpleasant turn as she twists him into her slave.

The concept is certainly ripe for comedy, but it turns out that Linklater doesn’t know what tack to take. Bernie’s attempts at straight comedy falter, with some scenes feeling like Linklater is waiting for the audience to erupt into fits of laughter at jokes which aren’t particularly funny. More worryingly, sometimes he seems to be inviting us to laugh directly at the poor, ignorant country-folk. In contrast the black comedic elements feel undercooked, lacking any real bite or insight. That’s not to say that Bernie isn’t mostly entertaining, but it fails to truly excel at any of the comedic styles it touches upon.

What makes Bernie worth watching is Jack Black’s charismatic performance. He plays Bernie with genuine empathy, expertly bringing out the eccentricities of the man without making them feel outlandish. It’s a wonderfully nuanced and controlled turn from Black. Unfortunately the acting is not universally excellent. Matthew McConaughey exaggerates his role as the District Attorney to the point where the character ends up feeling like a crude caricature of every cinematic Southern lawman.

In the end Bernie feels like a missed opportunity, which with a tighter script and more consistent direction could have been a masterpiece. Alas, whilst it can quite comfortably while away an afternoon, its impact dissipates as soon as the credits roll.

The Verdict: 3/5

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