DVD Review: Bernie

STUDIO: Millennium | DIRECTOR: Richard Linklater | CAST: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Mathew McConaughey, Rick Dial, Sonny Davis
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 8/21/2012 | PRICE: DVD $28.99, Blu-ray $29.99
BONUSES: featurettes, “Amazing Grace” performance by Jack Black
SPECS: PG-13 | 104 min. | Crime comedy drama | 1.85:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | English and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Quirky, darkly whimsical and wonderfully acted, the crime comedy-drama Bernie marks a return pairing for actor Jack Black (Gulliver’s Travels) and director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused) who also teamed on 2004’s hit comedy The School of Rock. The proceedings are a considerably more low-key in this telling of the true story of a Texas murder accented by a set of oddball circumstances.

Bernie movie scene

Jack Black cares for Shirley MacLaine in Bernie.

Black is Bernie Tiede, an overly mannered and well-liked 40-year-old mortician, who gets involved with Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine, Valentine’s Day), an 80-plus-year-old wealthy widow whose nastiness makes her the scourge of her small East Texas town of Carthage. Bernie becomes Marjorie’s constant companion, be it for travelling or domestic situations, but eventually the mean-spirited octogenarian drives the chronically gentle Bernie to silence her.

The film is punctuated by title cards and anecdotes about the doomed couple provided by a mix of Texas-based actors and real-life Carthage residents, an undeniably colorful lot. At times, this approach makes Bernie feel like a highly entertaining installment of a 48 Hours Mystery or Dateline NBC episode. Black turns in a first-rate performance as the lead character, a genuine eccentric obsessed with death and the proper etiquette that goes along with it; MacLaine, taking on a role of less depth, veers unpredictably from awfulness to niceness as a merciless ‘Maude’ to Black’s ‘Harold;’ and Matthew McConaughey ( The Lincoln Lawyer) scores points as the grandstanding good, ol’ boy district attorney who tries Bernie for his misdeeds.

The modest collection of bonus features include a couple of featurette, one of which look at the film’s long evolution from a 1998 article in Texas Monthly to a feature film in 2011. The second is an unspectacular piece that looks at Jack Black and features him singing a bang-up version of “Amazing Grace.” A third feature focuses on the real Carthage residents who appear as talking heads in the film and includes several of their audition tapes.


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About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.