Bernie (USA, 2013)
Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey, Brady Coleman
True crime stories have a tendency to be sensationalistic. Many films based on high-profile murders, kidnappings or other such cases go out of their way to be shocking or outré, and for every one or two that hit the mark, you get a dozen that come off as cheap, exploitative or just plain ineffective. Psycho wasn't scary because the real-life story of Ed Gene was scary: it was scary because Alfred Hitchcock worked hard to build up a creepy atmosphere in which the famous killings could take place.
Heathers and Kind Hearts and Coronets push their characters at you, surrounding them with dark tones and shadows to compliment their acid tongues and cruel intentions. Bernie, on the other hand, is a film which puts you with its characters in fairly inviting surroundings. Even the scenes in the funeral home are pleasantly lit, with an emphasis on achieving a naturalistic tone rather than setting up a given joke.
Harold and Maude. Both films revolve around a romantic relationship with a big age gap, whose lovers are brought together by their experience of funerals. And with both couples, the relationship is not exactly orthodox, nor is it the toast of the town; the residents of Carthage are perplexed why someone as nice as Bernie would want to spend any time with someone as spiteful as Marjorie.
Being There. Not only do both films feature Shirley MacLaine, but Bernie Tiede has several character traits which are very similar to that of Chance, played brilliantly by Peter Sellers. Both characters have an angelic innocence to them, a childlike quality which makes them instantly appealing or intriguing as characters. And both, more importantly, are seemly impossible to dislike. They make a huge difference in people's lives, improving their sense of well-being and leaving lasting memories. The only marked difference between them, aside from Bernie's eventual criminality, is that he is more conscious of his good will, while Chance has little to no idea of the impact that he is having.
About Schmidt, nor is it as touching or as weighty as Being There. But it's still very touching in its own way, and there is much to like about both the story and the way in which is told.
A Man For All Seasons, asking us to condemn someone in the face of all the good they have wrought. It makes us question the power and purpose of the law, seeing it as both a worthy standard to uphold and something that can be twisted to all manner of personal whims.
NEXT REVIEW: Monsters, Inc. (2001)