Everything is bigger in Texas; that goes for their awkward stories as well. A truly larger than life scenario of small town politics caught up in a big world scandal, Bernie is the new film that finds Richard Linklater teaming up with Jack Black again. Wacky, charming, yet oddly sentimental–Bernie is a wonderful mix of enjoyable hilarity wrapped around a serious crime. This may be Richard Linklater’s best film to date.
Bernie Tiede is as perfect as they come, according to the residents of Carthage, Texas. He’s sweet and loving, goes out of his way to do well for others, and boy can he sing. Bernie came to the town of Carthage to fill the role of the town’s mortician. The delicate grace he shows to the living, he passes on to the dead. As time goes by, Bernie befriends Marjorie Nugent–the town’s most spiteful, unlikeable woman. Nugent is loaded and a widow, and Bernie fells she just needs a friend. The two become inseparable companions, taking overseas trips together and doing just about everything in the world as if they were a couple. In time, Marjorie fires everyone that works for her (except her stock broker) and has Bernie waiting on her, hand and foot. Helping Marjorie becomes Bernie’s job. Being the sweet, caring man he is, Bernie can’t bring himself to ever complain to Marjorie until one day, he can’t handle it anymore.
The events within are all very real and are public record. You may have not heard about it, and it’s best not know before you go into the theater. It’s obvious to a point what happens, but let yourself try and forget before you sit down. The film is told through the eyes of gossipy town’s people. A hefty amount of the dialogue is taken from actual quotes from the original article that drew Linklater to the project– a number of the town’s people appear in the film as well. Both a story telling device and a thematic anchor, Bernie is more about the swirl of opinions of those on the outside than Bernie and Marjorie, themselves.
Well all know there can be/are two sides to every person. Every character in this film (from the large to the small) is another puzzle piece to a town of dualistic standards. The events that take place are as unbelievable to them as their part in the story is unbelievable to the viewer. To them, Bernie is incapable of doing any wrong. He’s the kind mortician who liked to give everyone elaborate presents and might be gay. When you see a news story about the nice, quiet neighbor who chopped up a family in their basement (not what happens here) you always hear, “Oh, he was a nice man, always said hello. I would never think he was capable of this.” That person quoted in the news story may have felt that way about the criminal, but they still know he committed the crime. Not the community of Carthage, Texas. They would lay their life on their line for lovable Bernie Tiede. It’s truly fascinating, and if you think it’s all Hollywood fluff, after you see the film read this article from Marjorie’s nephew.
From the town’s people to Danny Buck (Matthew McConaughey) to Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), Bernie is one large string of over the top hilarity to match the outrageous circumstance of the story. Jack Black however rides a line of understated power that allows him to play the role with nothing grounding him, while keeping the performance real. As Bernie is about more than just the man, it’s Black that makes the movie special. Once you see everything taking place and then look at the way it really happened, there’s no way anyone other than Black was right for this role.
Bernie is a rare film that treats its audience to a sophisticated level of storytelling, while disguising itself as a playful romp through a dark tunnel. Linklater allows you to enjoy yourself and relax, as he infects your brain with a twisted tale of he said/ she said that will spark a conversation between the whole theater once the lights come up..
Rating: 4 out of 5 ‘Staches