seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY
The first time I noticed Jack Black was in what was perhaps his breakthrough role: as the loudmouth scene-stealer in High Fidelity. Since then, he's grown into one of the many roles Hollywood loves to designate for certain types of actors - in this case, the Funny Fat Man. I've liked him here and there, never really drawn to him in particular as much as who he works with: John Cusack and Stephen Frears in High Fidelity, Peter Jackson in King Kong, Rick Linklater in both School of Rock, and now, Bernie as well.
It's cool that he's got a sideline as a musician, like another Funny Fat Man before him, John Belushi. Black is perhaps closer to Meatloaf than to Jeff Bridges or Hugh Jackman, but it's all in good fun - until I saw him in Bernie, and realized that he actually has a little range, stylistically speaking.
While it's not a musical, Black gets to do a whole lotta singing: gospel, mostly, with a little bit of showtunes, and he pulls it off quite nicely. I always thought there was a smidgen of self-awareness to his singing in the past, a hint of look-at-me mugging, but here he totally gives himself over to the vocal challenges in his role, and I didn't see any hint of self-awareness.
Bernie is based on a true story, about the strange relationship between a multi-talented funeral director and the bitter old woman he befriends and grows to love, in his own way, before circumstances take a bizarre turn. If this is indeed Black's Oscar push, he definitely shows some dramatic chops, but I'm convinced a Golden Globe is a much more realistic possibility. All the singing will make it a natural for the Comedy/Musical categories.
I'm not always enthused by funnymen taking on serious roles. On the one hand, I always like to see an actor stretching his or her acting talents in other directions, but on the other hand, sometimes they go too far. Am I the only one who still misses the funny Tom Hanks? (Larry Crowne and You've Got Mail just don't cut it.) While I've never been a huge Black fan, I'd still hate to see him give up comedy altogether - not that I think he will. (Yet.)