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Bernie

10 Jun

Bernie – directed by. Richard Linklater. Crime Docu-Comedy. A Texan do-gooder befriends a nasty old woman who abuses him mightily and he offs her. 104 minutes Color 2012.

★★★★

A missed opportunity, here, particularly for Jack Black who plays Bernie to perfection. Perfection is never enough. The sweetest man in town and the meanest woman in town, yes – the opportunity missed, though, is that they are really the same person, and we never get to know it. The same person? There are certain males who from an early age decide to be old women. Bernie is such. We do not imagine he has or wants a sex life. All he wants is to hobnob with widows. In fact, it could be said that, more than an old woman, he is himself a widow; that is to say, an old lady who does not have sex. Everyone in town loves Bernie: he is so kind, so thoughtful, so giving. A little swish, it is true, but who cares? – he sings in the choir, gives to charity, and organizes the community for its better good. However, we only see him in public, singing in amateur theatricals, giving money to the Boy Scouts, presiding beautifully as an undertaker. Everyone is his friend. But he has no friend. But that we do not see. What we do see is that he woos the town witch. Under the aegis of all they have in common, they become buddies; they go to concerts together, travel together, and she hands her financial affairs over to him. She melts like Margaret Hamilton under the douse of his decency. But, since she has a great deal of money, she pays for everything, and bit by bit he buys into the life style she provides and bit by bit she enslaves him to it. And when she does she becomes mean to him. Why doesn’t he just quit? Because she’s so bad, something comes over him first and he shoots her four times in the back with an armadillo rifle. What is the something that comes over him? We are never given to know. What it is is that he has a great public life, but he has no private life, but we are never given to glimpse that fact. We get neither inside Bernie’s house nor Bernie. The script scoots along on the surface, and never examines the bitter gun of his essential solitude. She thinks she is her money; he thinks he is his niceness. They are both suckered by themselves. Shirley MacLaine plays the old lady expectedly. That is to say, we expect her to be cast in the part and we expect her to play it the same way she has played this same part for years, and she does. Plastic surgery has mummified her face; it is quite awful to behold. What was she thinking of; she’s in her seventies; did she think people would think she wasn’t? The detestable Matthew Mconaghey is perfectly cast as the detestable  D.A. who puts Bernie away. And the big treat is the Carthage townspeople (for this is a true story), whose heads talk brilliantly and funnily all in favor not just of Bernie but of the murder itself. “Suddenly I was someone else,” says Bernie at his trial. The real gun was in him all along. But, alas, we never see it, for those scenes are missing or were never written. What we see is a performance of great discretion, appeal, and fairness by Black, which makes the film worthwhile viewing, not just because it gives us the liberation of watching a nance as a leading role, but because of the acceptance of him by all those smart good-hearted East Texas types who refresh the film with their innate democracy and talk their heads off about him for us. Their perspicacity is nil, but their diction in achieving it is priceless.

 
 
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