In the last three years, there have been two entertaining films that revolve around the subject of funerals: Get Low (2010) and Bernie (2011). While “entertaining funeral movie” sounds like an oxymorom, in these two cases it is not. Both are now out on DVD and highly recommended.
Get Low, was beautifully filmed on location in Georgia, and has an outstanding cast which includes: Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray (as the funeral director, of course), Lucas Black, and Bill Cobbs. Bill Cobbs is particularly praise worthy as the black preacher who tries to counsel Felix Bush (played by Robert Duvall). And Bill Murray is great as the sleazy funeral director who starts to develop a bit of a conscience.
But ultimately, Get Low is a Robert Duvall’s vehicle. He plays an elderly curmudgeon who lives as a hermit, suffering from survivor’s guilt. With a past that he is trying to expiate, Felix decides that a funeral (while he is still alive) is the best mechanism to acomplish his atonement. After his funeral in the woods, relieved at having unburdened his soul, he can now “get low” (die) in peace.
Bernie (2011) is a unusual black (pun intended) comedy film directed by Richard Linklater, and starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey. I’m not normally a Shirley MacLaine fan, but she is very good as a bitchy millionaire. Jack Black, another actor I don’t normally appreciate, is also very good as the principal character. This is not your typical over-the-top emoting that frequently characterizes Black’s work. One critic described his performance as being “subtly quirky.”
Jack Black plays the title role of Bernardt “Bernie” Tiede who works as an assistant in a funeral home. As portrayed, it is difficult to tell if Tiede is sincere or sleazy, and there in lies one of films virtues.
The movie documents (complete with interviews) the “true” story of the 1996 murder of an 81-year-old millionaire Marjorie Nugent in Carthage, Texas. The convicted murderer was her gay companion, Bernie. Tiede proved so well respected in Carthage that, inspite of his confession, the DA was forced to request a change of venue.
Slate‘s movie critic Dana Stevens, wrote of Bernie: “It’s hard to think of many other celebrations of small-town American life that are quite as rich, as warm, and as complexly layered.”
Recommendation: Rent them, they are minor jewels.