Sometimes, against all odds and in spite of our rotten selves, good things still happen. Even when we are total jerks and don’t deserve a goddamn thing. Even when we don our fiercest armour, dress ourselves in a fortress of long underwear and snow pants and those big furry hats with ear flaps and brace our puckered faces against an imagined storm, even then, sometimes, good things still happen. The sun comes out and the ground warms up and Obama gets re-elected for a second term. And in your frustrated snow-panted sour-faced fervour, someone reaches out to you and whispers that everything is going to be okay.
We were fortunate this week, in more ways than one: to be welcomed by the visiting l’Arche Cape Breton community for their annual benefit at the Cape Breton Film Series; to be entertained with a light-hearted French comedy full of unchallenging happy endings; to be spared the certain tyranny of the wooden-toothed, full-body-underwear-suited, merman president Romney. We may not have earned such honours, but damn, did we get lucky.
If you are feeling estranged from your gratitude and unsure of my motivation here, then I’d like to think I’ve at least begun to prepare you for this week’s film series presentation, Bernie.
I had the good, undeserved fortune of seeing an advanced screening of the new Richard Linklater film, a darkly humourous tale of a beloved funeral director in small town Texas, whose unconditional love for his community lures him down a darker path than he ever could have imagined. Jack Black stars as Bernie, but don’t let that affect your decision to see the film. This ain’t no Nacho Libre, and whether that is good news for you or not, Black is sure to win you over with this charming portrayal.
If The Intouchables was an example of good fortune smiling on anyone lucky enough to be breathing, then Bernie may well serve as our humbling reminder that really bad things happen to really good people in spite—or even because—of their kindness and generosity. However the true story of Bernie Tiede’s difficult friendship with widow Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) is not designed to teach us lessons, and Linklater spares us any didactic moralizing about what is at face value just a terribly unfortunate thing. If this movie’s tag line isn’t “Shit happens”, then an intern somewhere isn’t doing a very good job.
I don’t want to say more and spoil this beautiful film, which promises to leave you feeling completely ambivalent about earthly and divine justice, so I will leave it at that. Don’t worry. It’s all there. You will laugh, you will cry, you will feel like being a better person, and you will want to kill anyone who tries to stop you.
Keep faith with Linklater, who keeps climbing the ladder of film-making greats to secure his place in our hearts and minds for years to come. From his boisterous teenaged epics like Dazed and Confused and SubUrbia, to the real-time romance of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, Linklater has given us plenty to be excited about. Put Bernie on that list, and rest assured that Linklater, rather than falling back on reliable formulas, has shown real growth with this film. If Dazed chronicled the exploits of our spoiled youth, and Before Sunrise taught us how to love quietly in a big ugly world, then Bernie is his attempt to remind us that we are not in control of our weird and wonderful destinies, that our greatest triumphs may also be our greatest defeats, and that we will never be certain of which is which anyway.
Believe it or not, this is a glowing endorsement of Bernie, which was easily one of the best films I’ve seen this year. You are just lucky enough to have this opportunity, so count your perfunctory blessings, and come on out to the show.
Bernie plays this Thursday at Empire Theatres Studio 10, at 7pm.