Monday, May 14, 2012

Black Comedy

Bernie       WWW Score: 82%

When you toss around plaudits like: "Jack Black's finest performance", you are treading on some seriously sacrosanct ground. A sampling of the thespian's resume reveals a richness of resplendence: 'Year One', 'Gulliver's Travels', 'Nacho Libre' - the man is the modern day Cary Grant.

That small slice of sarcasm aside, if you continue scrolling down Black's IMDB credits to the year 2003, you arrive at 'The School of Rock', which just so happened to nab the now 42-year-old a Golden Globe nomination. How quickly the ghosts of award shows past evaporate.

The director of that non-accredited-substitute-teacher-comedy was Richard Linklater, a man whose credits span from slacker-fave 'Dazed and Confused' to art house wonder 'A Scanner Darkly'. And now, after some nine years, Linklater has teamed with Black again in the darkish-comedy 'Bernie', a film that may just nab Black a second Globe nomination. He nails it.

Based on a true tale, Black is Bernie Tiede, a mortician - "funeral director" as he prefers - with a level of charm that beguiles the residents of the itty-bitty East Texas burg of Carthage. The guy is the pillar of his community - performing soul-felt funerals, leading the church choir and raising the level of local theater to an off, off, off Broadway quality.

With a penchant for going the extra mile in attempts to comfort those who lost a loved one, Bernie meets Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), a downright nasty widow who allows the effeminate man into her life, bonding to the point of giving him complete control of her vast financial wealth. But Marjorie's miscreant manner forces Bernie to the brink of desperation in attempts to escape her tyrannical rule - he succeeds by way of four shotgun slugs to her back.

Linklater shoots the film in a faux-documentary-style, interspersing recollections of the actual events by the townsfolk of Carthage. If you didn't know 'Bernie' were rooted in real events, you'd think the locals were the most organic non-actor actors ever - a rube named Sonny Davis should consider a career in stand-up as he unleashes a slew of guffaw-inducing wisecracks.

While 'Bernie' gets out of the gate with an effervescent pace, it bogs down about two-thirds through - right about when MacLaine is blasted in the back. But Black - with an assist from the playing-a-Southern-drawled-lawyer-yet-again-but-sporting-dorktacular-glasses-this-time-around Matthew McConaughey - keeps the ship afloat. Black is - forgive me - downright adorable as the behind-bars-for-life killer.

It's easily Jack Black's finest performance since the last time he paired up with Linklater and one that could score the roundish funnyman some love once again next awards season.