It’s a comedy only in the sense of a
burlesque: it’s an expose that acts
like it’s deadly serious, except that we’re really making fun of everybody
involved for playing their caricatures with such artistic aplomb.
Those of us who actually live in
cannot help but feel the sting of such bald, broad farce.
The fact that it plays like a documentary, because it really was a true
story, makes it stunningly real even as it’s portrayed as grandiosely
macabre, and laughably parochial. Yes,
making a farce of the Heartland again, because, well, all of us stupid people
out here are duplicitous hicks, if not hypocritical fools.
Other than that, we’re so incurably dense that we’re almost cute.
Jack Black does such a magnificently
believable job of portraying Bernie, the small-town con-man extraordinaire,
that we’re almost as incredulous as the unsuspecting townsfolk when we
witness his stunningly cold reversing of fortune.
He arrives in the little town of
, working as a mortician (but we now say “funeral director”), and happily
instructs students in the fine art of…..deceiving the living into thinking
the dead are alive?
Well, that’s ironic, because that’s
how we end up, also. In between times,
Bernie is very active in the local Methodist church, where he sings solos in
this beautiful, lilting tenor (yes, Jack Black has a lovely singing voice, and
were he to play it straight, could easily sing at church funerals anytime).
Bernie also coaches a Little League team, and helps people with their
taxes. He delivers flowers to recent
widows. Everybody thinks the world of
him. He just seems so….nice.
Bernie particularly showers attention on
a certain sharp-tongued widow (Shirley MacLaine) who has few friends in the
little town, because she’s so…..mean. Bernie
helped with her husband’s funeral, then began dropping by to “cheer up”
the widow, and before you know it, they’re being seen together about town.
This lady has enough money to travel,
and Bernie is happy to accompany her, as well as to operas and stage plays and
other cultural events in nearby venues. Bernie
even helpfully deals with her broker, a man who becomes suspicious when he
doesn’t actually see the widow for several months.
Alas, it seems that our beloved Bernie, after listening to her badger
him and order him about ceaselessly for yet another day, just snapped.
And shot her. And then hid her in the
freezer, because, well, as an undertaker, there was something instinctive in
him about her needing a good burial, at some point.
He just didn’t know exactly how he was going to accomplish that.
Well, as it turns out, he never had to
figure that out, because he got caught. And
when he did, the townspeople were surprisingly sympathetic—figured she must
have had it coming, somehow. So the
trial was moved to another city, and Bernie was convicted---he had, after all,
confessed to the sheriff---and is currently serving his prison term, while
still singing in the chapel services and cooking for the staff.
Is this guy for real?
Well, yeah, and during the credits, we actually get to see
him---talking with Jack Black. Well, it
seems that Bernie still has the last laugh. “Ah do declare.”
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim Pastor,
St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,