Bernard And Doris Movie Review

HBO lined up two big stars to tell the story of billionaire tobacco heiress Doris Duke and her loyal yet shady butler Bernard Lafferty. Susan Sarandon and Ralph Fiennes star in Bernard and Doris and give it a go, but the truth is that they are both miscast, Sarandon especially, and that error subverts what is otherwise a witty half drama/half comedy.

Racing through the final years of Doris's troubled life in typically episodic biopic fashion, the teleplay introduces us to an aging but still feisty woman who doesn't suffer fools gladly and manages her sprawling estate and her finances with an iron fist. When a butler delivers cantaloupe that is chilled incorrectly, Doris fires him on the spot.

His replacement: the creepy Bernard, who is recently out of rehab and has questionable references. Soon enough, however, he's comfortably installed as the household majordomo, slowly loosening up and becoming friendlier with the lonely Doris as he travels the world with her and learns to share her expensive and exotic tastes. Given Bernard's developing fondness for eye makeup, flowery caftans, and his ever-lengthening ponytail, it's clear that the two will never become lovers, but even in her 70s, Doris is a maneater, bedding a dreadlocked jazz pianist 40 years her junior while Bernard fusses around the house and quietly drinks his way through her impressive wine cellar when he's not helping her repot her orchids.

And so it goes, with Doris's roundtable of gray-haired bankers and philanthropy advisors becoming increasingly agitated by Bernard's influence over her, especially as her health begins to decline and all attention starts focusing on what is sure to be an interesting will and last testament. If and when Doris dies, what is going to happen to her billions, and will Bernard get his hands on any of the loot?

Sarandon has loads of fun chewing the scenery, but her casting is historically inaccurate because she is far younger than the real Duke was when Lafferty entered her life, and the dynamic between them feels off. Fiennes does better as Bernard. He's truly oily but manages to become a somewhat sympathetic character by the end, given that the screenplay really doesn't take sides. Still, the film would have been better served by someone truly weird, someone like Ferris Bueller's principal, Ed Rooney, actor Jeffrey Jones, who I don't think is working much anymore. Fiennes just can't help but be debonair.

Bernard and Doris is a fun enough diversion, but it's wishy-washy and doesn't dig dive enough into comedy, tragedy, sympathy, suspense, or anything else to make it ultimately memorable.

Judi Dench was unavailable.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Producer : , , Adam Kassen, Mark Kassen


Bernard And Doris Rating

" OK "

Rating: NR, 2008


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