“Bernie” never quite rises to full comedy, but remains locked in a state of satirical curiosity, marveling at its own contradictions. Black, who memorably starred in Linklater's “School of Rock,” never gives in to a punch line, but his grand, absurdist performance is much closer to parody than realism.
With his pants pulled high, a dark mustache, and his incredible jumping eyebrows, Black effeminately strolls through the film. Tielde is portrayed as a closeted gay man.
Often, maybe too often, he's singing, whether “Amazing Grace” at a funeral or “Love Lifted Me,” full-throated while driving alone. But seeing Black, in full musical regalia, earnestly belt out “Seventy-six Trombones” can only be considered a pleasure.
One wishes “Bernie” submitted fully to dark satire and shed its milder tone. But it also could be that the film works better as a curiosity — a dark comedy that's not entirely dark and not quite a comedy, either.
The Austin-based Linklater (“Me and Orson Welles,” “Dazed and Confused”) has by now amassed one of the more varied filmographies in contemporary American movies, and most everything he makes is worth seeing.
“Bernie” is his Preston Sturges comedy, an ode to small-town Texas life. The town isn't appalled by Tiede's act. On the contrary, they're sympathetic. Tiede, after all, was a great neighbor and, to them, civil society is so prized as to outweigh a little ol' thing like murder.
Such clannishness ends at the city limits, though. When one townsperson maps his view of Texas, accounting for the “Dallas snobs” and the “liberal fruitcakes” of “the People's Republic of Austin,” Linklater is clearly having fun.
— Jack Coyle, The Associated Press
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Starring: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey. (Some violent images and brief strong language)