If you're any sort of Richard Linklater fan (Slackers, Dazed and Confused), then you should be stoked to hear that the man has a new film ready and that it premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival last night. Bernie stars Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine in the real-life story about a beloved assistant funeral director from Texas (Black) whose strange relationship with an 81-year-old widow (MacLaine) eventually leads to one very odd tale of murder.
Early buzz seems to surround Black's surprisingly understated performance, with a few outlets calling it "superb" and a return to form for the comedic actor. Also Matthew McConaughey (reuniting with Linklater) is winning kudos for simply not taking off his shirt. But does Bernie have enough to break out on the big screen, or is it destined for your late-night Netflix Instant queue? Let's take a look at what some folks are saying ...
“Money makes the world go ‘round, but it’s not the answer to all your prayers,” declared Jack Black at the opening night of the L.A. Film Fest, where he and screen legend Shirley MacLaine hit the red carpet arm in arm at the world premiere of Richard Linklater’s new black comedy, Bernie. “It makes the world go ‘round, sometimes the other way,” quipped MacLaine. That’s precisely the lesson at the heart of Bernie, based on the zany true story of a mortician who lived a well-loved existence in his small East Texas town — until, that is, he committed a terrible crime." -- Movieline
"Sustaining a tone so affectionate you have to squint to make out its darkly comic undertow, Richard Linklater's "Bernie" recounts the strange story of perhaps the most likable killer in Texas history and the curious lack of outrage his crime incited. Pitch-perfect performances by Shirley MacLaine and an unusually restrained Jack Black hold together this offbeat true-crime saga, but Linklater's keen eye for human eccentricity flowers most memorably on the periphery, in colorful but never condescending mock-doc interviews that make this a vivid work of small-town portraiture." - Variety
"Linklater miscalculation is his decision to intercut the story with documentary style interviews featuring residents of Carthage some of whom are played by professional actors and others who still reside in the town and knew both Bernie and Marjorie. Some of these moments are genuinely funny (mostly from the blunt real Carthage residents), but they also severely hamper the pace of the film and remove a lot of the dramatic momentum being sold by Black, MacLaine, McConaughey and others in traditional scenes. And while the subject matter is no doubt fascinating it's not as funny as Linklater wants it to be providing more chuckles than true laughs. That means what works in the film is mostly due to the cast whose performances are easy to recommend." - HitFix
"Bernie" is a shaggy, idiosyncratic work, possibly the strangest yet in a career full of strangeness. ... The director makes some provocative choices, such as mixing in documentary conventions — like talking-head interviews with Carthage town gossips — so viewers are uncertain what's taken from real life, what's being made up by Linklater and what's being made up by the real-life gossips he's depicting. To add to the trippiness, some of the talking heads are performers, while some are townspeople playing themselves." - The LA Times
For more, here's Linklater explaining the stylistic choices he made with the film to indieWIRE:
A big part of the movie revolves around interviews with local people who knew Bernie. Why did you decide to adopt the mockumentary structure?
It’s all scripted, but a lot of those people are the real people from that town. The idea came from this story I read by Skip Hollandsworth [in Texas Monthly], and so much of it was just interviews. It hit me that Bernie’s in prison and unable to talk, so a lot of the story was refracted through everybody in the town. It reminded me of small town gossip. In small towns, you are defined by your city. If everyone thinks you’re a bitch, guess what? You’re a bitch. If everyone thinks you’re nice, you’re nice. It’s a popularity contest. I’d never really seen a movie that had this narrative that came through gossip. I just saw it as this forest of gossips. And Bernie’s kinda enigmatic. He only has a voiceover at the very end.
Bernie is still seeking distribution; we'll update when the film has an official release date.