Friday, May 25, 2012

"Bernie" Plays Murder for Laughs

Jack Black and Richard Linklater

 “Bernie” a Murder Story Played for Laughs

 By Skip Sheffield

 “Bernie” is a most extraordinary film. “What you are fixin’ to see is a true story,” drawls the voiceover introduction. What follows are the best-ever performances of Jack Black and Matthew McConaghey and a return to form for Shirley MacLaine and writer-director Richard Linklater. It helps that Linklater is a Texan (Houston) and so is McConaghey (Longview), for “Bernie” is set very specifically in Texas- East Texas- in the tiny town of Carthage. It was there that in 1996 a murder occurred that rocked and divided the town and continues to be controversial to this day. But “Bernie” is not really a murder-mystery, nor is it as much about a crime as it is about people from a specific place. The script for “Bernie” was written by Linklater (“School of Rock”) and Skip Hollandsworth, who wrote the story “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas” for Texas Monthly magazine in 1998. In a tour de force, Jack Black uses all his comedic, musical and dramatic talents to portray Bernie Tiede, a meek and mild- you could say effeminate- 39-year-old assistant funeral director at a Carthage funeral home. Bernie is a true artist in the art of embalming, as we learn in testimonial after testimonial. He is also a church choir director and soloist and director, musical director and actor at the local community theater. It’s hard not to like kind, generous Bernie, and just about everyone does, including the town’s richest, most difficult citizen, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). Bernie meets Marjorie at her late husband’s funeral and little by little ingratiates himself with the embittered, selfish, demanding grandmother, estranged from her sister, children, grandchildren and just about everyone in town. Bernie takes brown-nosing to a new artistic level; becoming Marjorie’s best buddy and soon live-in and world travel companion. If you have known someone like Bernie- and there are plenty like him in South Florida- you know there is a price to pay for all that bowing and kow-towing. It’s a great ride for Bernie while it lasts and the symbiotic relationship is played for choice laughs. It is great fun seeing MacLaine play the ultimate prune-faced shrew with a heart of ice. It’s even more fun watching Black’s transformation from confident conman to cornered desperado. McConaghey is deadpan droll as Bernie’s nemesis, Panola County district Attorney Danny Buck Davidson. While he represents the law, it is hard not to boo Buck and McConaghey’s puckish performance. While “Bernie” does not fit in any easy category, it is entertaining all the way, even when bad stuff happens. Stick around for the end credits and you can see the real residents of Carthage alongside their fictional counterparts. This includes the actual Bernie Tiede, now serving a life sentence as a model prisoner. < Chloe Dolandis at Arts Garage Boca Raton’s very talented Chloe Dolandis gets a showcase at 8 p.m. Friday, June 1 at the Arts Garage, 180 NW First St., Delray Beach. It’s been a great year for Chloe so far. Her album “Bring Back the Fever” reached No. 19 on the Top 300 iTunes Jazz Album Downloads. Her self-penned song “Solid Woman” was a semi-finalist in the 2011 International Songwriting Competition. Perhaps sweetest of all, she was the First Place winner of the South Florida Chapter National Society of Arts & Letters’ 2012 Musical Theater Competition. Tickets are $20-$30. Call 561-450-6357 or go to For more on Chloe visit Two Free Shows at Mizner Park Amphitheater Boca Ballet Theatre presents an evening of mixed repertory dance at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, May 27 at Mizner Park Amphitheater. There is no admission charge, and food, beverage and chair rental is for sale. Call 561-995-0709 or go to At 7 p.m. Monday, the New Gardens Band and Robert Sharon Chorale performing in honor of Memorial Day. The concert is sponsored by the city of Boca Raton and admission is free.

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