Jonathan Melville: Go back to Black - he’s good

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BERNIE is the Jack Black movie for people who don’t like Jack Black. Released next Friday, Richard Linklater’s film, based on a true story, introduces us to Bernie Tiede (Black), an undertaker who arrives in the small Texas town of Carthage and soon becomes a favourite with the locals.

When Bernie meets Mrs Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), a rich widow whom everyone despises, the pair become friends, until Mrs Nugent’s personality drives even the mild mannered Bernie to distraction.

As somebody who actively avoids most of Black’s films – you couldn’t pay me to watch 2009’s Year One or 2010’s Gulliver’s Travels – I was ready to be disappointed by Bernie. I was expecting an over-the-top Black with plenty of mugging to camera which only a fan could love.

Instead, I was met with a toned down version of his usual persona, which was – dare I say it – enjoyable to watch. Black’s Bernie may still be slightly heightened, but he pitches it to perfection as we see him come to terms with his actions.

It helps that Linklater’s film is full of decent support from actors such as MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey, proving his versatility again after last year’s terrifically dark Killer Joe.

The film also features real-life Carthage townsfolk, who gossip about proceedings throughout. The director has stated that this element is what stopped the film getting made, but it turns out to be a clever trick, as the viewer wonders who is real and who is played by an actor.

Jack Black fans will no doubt go to see Bernie anyway, but for anyone who’s unsure about his presence I’d recommend giving it a shot. You might be pleasantly surprised.