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Thursday, September 06, 2012  

M. Ovie Reviews: Bernie

As is often the case, I knew almost nothing about Bernie walking into it, other than that it was playing at the Parkway. I like seeing movies at the Parkway, because it's charmingly dilapidated and it has couches and beer. Normally I like an Icee at the movie theater, but a beer will do. I keep hoping someone will put out a beer Icee, but I'm still waiting.

Anyway, considering the Parkway doesn't play trailers, I felt like I spent an inordinate amount of time waiting for the movie to start already. I mean, there were sounds and pictures and Jack Black on the screen, but it seemed to take forever to get going. The movie is the story of a highly popular assistant funeral director (Black as the titular Bernie) in the small town of Carthage, Texas who strikes up a curious relationship with a rich but hateful widow played by Shirley MacLaine. But a surprising amount of the story is told, not shown, by a Greek chorus of everypeople with varying degrees of camera non-readiness. So I sat there for a long time wondering if I was in for an hour and a half of "look at the rubes!" I was expecting better from director Richard Linklater.

I also wondered when Jack Black was going to cut loose already. Bernie was this sweet, innocent, happy guy, but since he was being played by Jack Black, I couldn't help wondering when he was going to drop the act. The answer: never. He does get to sing quite a bit, so I figured that was why he signed on. That, and like Matthew McConaghey (playing a self-aggrandizing DA), he owed Linklater a solid for making him a star. Why else would he allow himself to be made up like a younger, fatter Wayne Newton?

As the story progresses -- slooowly -- the most likable person in town becomes friends with the last likable person in town, and I couldn't help thinking of the time on The Office when Andy showed Jim and Pam an advance screener of as new movie in which Jack Black fell in love with Cloris Leachman. I wouldn't have watched that movie, and I was beginning to regret watching this one, beer or no. Finally it ends, and there's some commentary about public opinion and the rule of law (although it's the opposite of what we usually see), and then it's over, and Bernie makes his final, light-footed exit, and I'm left thinking, So what was the point of all that? I felt rather like I'd just sat through one of the Coen brothers' more purposeless outings.

But then the twist comes -- a twist for me, at least, who as you know does minimal research before going to see most movies -- and I discovered that it was actually a true story. I admit that it's entirely my fault for not knowing this. In fact, there may even have been a title card right at the opening, but the fact that it started with the words "What you're fixin' to see" left me rage-blinded to anything else it might have had to say.

So that left me with another question: should it make a difference whether the story you're watching unfold on a movie screen is true or not? We expect an interesting tale either way, right? I looked back on the movie, wondering if I would have experienced it differently had I known it was a true-crime semi-documentary rather than a half-baked mockumentary, and I had to admit that yes, I would have. As a made-up story, you watch it thinking, This is so dumb. This would never happen. And then I got to the end and realized, "That happened? Okay, obviously this story needed telling.

I should have had more faith in Linkater. I know full well he's dabbled in genre-mixing before, and I have to admit that he pulled off the mockumentary/documentary mix admirably. The lesson here is that I should always trust that he knows what he's doing, even when I don't.

posted by M. Giant 6:38 AM 2 comments


I think you've put your finger on why 'true' stories have a different impact - the watcher stops assessing the credibility of the characters' actions and that often gives a completely different experience. I know I am sometimes so astonished at what is being shown as 'fact' that I do research after the movie / doco just to see if things were elided or amped up, so incredible are some people's 'plans'.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at September 6, 2012 at 7:03 PM  

What's with all the movie reviews? Have you given up blogging?

By Anonymous Anonymous, at September 12, 2012 at 10:05 PM  

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