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I saw the world premiere of "Bernie" last night at the Los Angeles Film Festival. I must confess, after Jack Black's run of "Year One", "Gulliver's Travels", and "Kung Fu Panda", I was starting to lose hope of ever seeing the "School of Rock" guy I fell in love with. When I heard Richard Linklater (School of Rock) and Jack Black were teaming up again, I felt a glimmer of hope. I am happy to report, I was not disappointed last night! Jack Black gives one of the best performances of his career in "Bernie." Shirley MacLaine was the icing on the cake and Matthew McConaughey was the cherry on top. I loved this movie! "Bernie" is based on the true story of Bernie Tiede, an assistant funeral director and general do-gooder, who confessed to killing Marjorie Nugent, a very rich and mean old lady. Bernie was a bit eccentric but beloved by his entire community of Carthage, Texas. Jack Black nails this performance. He really shows us what he is capable of as an actor. It was such a pleasure to watch him transform into Bernie Tiede. Great moments of physical comedy and also some twisted, dark moments of catching a glimpse into Bernie's spiraling psyche. Shirley MacLaine was Marjorie Nugent who was known as a mean, bitter lady with no friends and a family who tried to sue her for her money. You can't go wrong with Shirley MacLaine she's just brilliant. The chemistry between MacLaine and Black was fantastic. I truly enjoyed watching them on the screen together. Even at the world premiere last night they had great chemistry in person. It seems like they truly loved working together on this film. Matthew McConaughey was great as the D.A. Danny Buck Davidson, the character didn't seem to be a huge stretch for him, but who cares he was great! I'm not sure when it is due to be released, but I will be recommending it to my friends when it hits theatres.
Bernie is a story so bizarre it must be true. In the small town of
Carthage, Texas, funeral director Bernie Tiede murdered the elderly
Marjorie Nugent. The stranger than fiction of it all begins when after
this act, Bernie continues to manage her affairs while lying to the
townsfolk and deceiving them into thinking she is still alive. It
becomes stranger when he maintains this ruse for several months. The
strangest part of it all is when he's found out, no one is outraged and
wanting to see him stand trial. In fact, the townsfolk are so in love
with Bernie that they paint the man prosecuting him, Danny Buck, as
somewhat of a villain for even wanting Bernie to face jail in the first
This is a very bizarre true story, and writer/director Richard Linklater portrays it in an appropriately unique fashion. Rarely the one to go the conventional route, Linklater uses a blend of semi-fictionalized recreations of the lives of Bernie and Marjorie along with interview footage of the real people of Carthage, as they give their own thoughts on the two of them and the events that transpired under their very noses. Seeing the people talk about Bernie, putting him up on this pedestal of being a lovely community man who would be "first on the list of people going to heaven", the film takes on this eerie atmosphere that is discomforting but absolutely fascinating. This man is a murderer, of an old woman no less, and yet they still treat him the same as they always did.
Linklater brings in Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey to portray the fictionalized versions of Tiede, Nugent and Buck, along with a cast of supporting actors who are so convincingly in tune with the Carthage way that I had trouble figuring out who were the real townspeople and who were the actors. Linklater tunes in so thoroughly to this bizarre behavior of the town that everything molds together in such a fluid fashion and the whole thing becomes this semi-documentary account of this incredibly fascinating story. The headline actors do some of their finest work in years (or of their careers, certainly in the case of Black) under the direction of Linklater here and create characters who feel unique and just as real as those actual townspeople.
There were times where I felt that maybe it painted a little bit too much of a sympathetic light on Tiede, but in a way that works best of all as it's exactly how the town saw him as well. Linklater isn't a director who I can say I've been particularly fond of over his career, but he's always managed to be interesting and it's no surprise here that he took an unconventional approach to this story and made it work. Led by a career best performance from Black, who so thoroughly embodies this charming and slightly off person, Bernie is something you've got to see to believe.
I had the privilege of seeing this film in Austin last month. Mr. Linklater was among the thousands devastated by the fires in Bastrop county and with his hard work and help from Jack Black and crew they turned the screening into a fundraiser to help the fire victims. They raised over $155,000. It was a great event. The movie was the best part. If you live or have lived in a small town anywhere in America you'll 'get' this movie and you won't be able to stop laughing. If you're in Texas or you hate Texas, it'll be just that much better. The characters are real, the acting is superb. Jack is at the top of his game and Mathew did an outstanding job. He played his role right on the edge, always close to going over the top but never getting there. Shirley is a gem and acted like I've never seen her before. Thank you Richard for your film and your efforts in Bastrop. My farm survived, but too many friends lost everything. Oh, and thanks for letting me be in this film. Woohoo that's me at the end Ma!!
This was a surprisingly good movie. Director Richard Linklater blends semi-documentary style with dark comedy and tragic real-life events in an exceptional way. Based on the murder of a wealthy widow in Carthage Texas in 1996. This movie gives you an interesting glimpse into small town life and how the people there dealt with this unique situation. Jack Black proves he can act, Matthew McConaughy looked to be enjoying himself, and Shirley MacLaine, while not having much to do, is still a welcome addition to the cast. Linklater even uses real townsfolk to help narrate the story through their own recollections of the events. This is one of those independent films that is a must see.
One could technically label Bernie a docudrama, as it is definitely
more than meets the eye in terms of bringing facts to the table. The
film is intercut with segments featuring the townspeople of Carthage,
Texas discussing their relationship with the real Bernie Tiede and how
his cheery eccentricities rubbed off on the town. Some of them are
clearly actors, one of them being Matthew McConaughey's mother, but
many are authentic folk off the street. Linklater very early on breeds
variety into a film with so many unique and cute subtleties that after
a while, you contemplate what you may have missed. Enthusiastically
Tiede is an assistant funeral director in Carthage, and can't be more proud of what he does. He's the man who fixes up the dead to make them look sometimes better than they did alive. Bernie is notorious for connecting deeply with his customers who have come to him after the death of a loved one, and even manages to stay in contact with many of them long after the funeral, dropping by and even bringing them flowers occasionally. He's a genial, kind soul and effortlessly brightens everyone's day. Almost like that guy on the street, at the office, on the bus, or in the neighborhood you don't know personally, don't know their history, or quite possibly even know their name, but you make the humane nuance to wave or say hello to them frequently. Tiede is an ode to that person in your life.
Bernie becomes friends with Marjorie Nugent (MacLaine), a wealthy old widow, who is mean-spirited and, after occupying a certain disdain for him, gives into his cheeriness and they begin hanging out with each other. It isn't long before Bernie grows weary of Mrs. Nugent's browbeating comments and shoots her four times in the back. Devastated at what he has done out of pure anger, he manages to conceal the body for months before the district attorney Danny Buck (played extremely well by McConaughey, whose character somewhat resembles Woody Harrelson's cold-blooded cop from Rampart), a cowboy-hatted, tall, and thin man always dapper, becomes suspicious of Bernie. He believes his nice appearance is just a put-on for the heartless deviant he really is.
The character of Bernie is played by Jack Black, in a role that is beyond any description I can helpfully provide. His character needs to be seen. Black takes a character, whose story and personality is likely unknown to many people in 2012, and invents this kind, charismatic person in the blink of an eye. Bernie is perhaps the nicest movie character I have been greeted with this year, and even after he kills an old woman, it's hard to even have harsh feelings for the sap. What he did was wrong, but it has become apparent that when a film features a cold-blooded killer, we are robbed of backstory and reason as to why he is doing this or how he got here. We learn so much about Bernie and his life before the inevitable murder that we almost can't hate the man despite his unforgivable actions.
Richard Linklater, who previously worked with Black in the impressive School of Rock, directs this black comedy with a serene bite, providing it with a rich script, and three lovable performances by three fine actors. Its deep south cinematography reminds me of the kind used in the drama Seven Days in Utopia, only more expressively used and healthier for the tone of the picture, not to mention the involving narrative carried throughout the excursion truly compliments the quiet rural nature of its setting. Bernie is one of the most enthusiastically quirky pictures of the year.
Starring: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey. Directed by: Richard Linklater.
Last Friday a theater full of cinemaphiles (in what one old codger in the film calls "the People's Republic of Austin") LOVED it! It was Jack Black's best performance in the most demanding role he's ever attempted. Shirley MacLain was brilliant in developing a complex character in what was almost a non-speaking role. Supporting players, the funeral director, the broker, the sheriff, were first rate - but the major character in the film is the Greek Chorus, dubbed "The Gossips" by director Linklater, comprised of a score of actors and local townspeople who narrate the reenactment of real events in a docudrama, combining interviews that have the look and feel of modern Reality TV with techniques that were used in the earliest silent films, like the use of title cards to indicate the passage of time and the shifting focus of the story. A brilliant job by Linklater in creating a noir comedy like "What's the Trouble With Harry?" while sustaining a clear trace of the human tragedy and sadness that underlies the story. WARNING: Don't miss the opening! It's a grabber!
"Bernie" is a nice surprise by Richard Linklater and Jack Black - the
same team that brought you 2003's comedy hit "The School of Rock"; now
they have reunited for a different type of comedy - a dark one.
Black acts differently in this movie - more restraint, more focused, and at times more intense than in any other film he's done before. His humor here is low-key and not physical a feat done with his absorbing performance. Here is a guy who is loved by everyone - who must be loved by everyone, and who can never say no. It is both an interesting and challenging role for him but he pulls it off in a great way - perhaps paving the way to more challenging and dramatic roles in the future. Compared to other comedy film actors who tried more serious turns, he's not yet as terrific as say, Jim Carrey in "The Truman Show" or Adam Sandler in "Punch-Drunk Love" - but he's on the right track.
Shirley MacLaine is also very different here - she has a sweet, somewhat cheeky personality in many of her previous films of late, but for this movie there's a cold, demeaning aura around her, and her steely eyes sell it. Matthew McConaughey as the ruthless district attorney has certainly improved in his acting range - just check out the courtroom scenes.
I really appreciate the small-town setting of the film. The film is told by ''interviews'' with the friendly small-town folk, giving a quirky and homely feel to the film, while at the same time Linklater smoothly meshes narrative flashbacks into it - which brings me to the editing. The film moves at a strong clip and never feels rushed nor draggy. The above-average screenplay has balances just the right amount of screen- time to establish the story and characters, notably Bernie. Just when you think the film is about to end - there's always another interesting thing happening that keeps the audience glued.
Black and Linklater make a good, promising actor-director team. Perhaps Linklater will be the key to unlock Black's potential in acting. Of course, this is still a ''little'' movie - a low budget, and scarcely any promotion at all... so hopefully word of mouth spreads just how very good this dark comedy is.
P.S. I was not aware that the film is based on a true story. That made the film even more dark and quirky than it was supposed to be.
Overall rating: 77%
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After reading Rolling Stone's account of the actual crime, framed by the filming of this movie, I walked out of the theater disappointed. The story of Bernie and Majorie is poignant and makes a good magazine read but is not extraordinary or compelling enough for book-length treatment or psychoanalytic examination. But it certainly could serve as a great topic for a black comedy sprinkled heavily with suspense and allowing the cast plenty of poetic license. In planning for such, Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine are perfect casting choices. Instead, here's what you get: Thirty, maybe FORTY percent of BERNIE is interviews with actual townsfolk or actors which, instead of supporting the storyline, plot, etc., actually interrupt what little movement is achieved. If sometimes humorous, the cuts to interview eventually become groan inducing and are so pervasive that the dramatic portions take a backseat. Its like watching an A&E documentary with short "dramatic reenactments" peppered in. As such, neither Black nor MacLaine get to "take off" and get no chance to inhabit their characters. There's nary any effort to depict how Bernie and Majorie "bonded". Comic opportunities with their road trips are wasted. In short, BERNIE should have been seen as a great opportunity to entertain us with good writing, acting and movie making. Instead, it chooses to take very seriously a real-life tragedy that simply does not rise to the level of great stuff.
Casting Jack Black in the title role of this 2012 dark comedy turns out
to be a masterstroke on the part of director and co-screenwriter
Richard Linklater because the real-life character of Bernie Tiede is a
comically ambiguous figure not only sexually but more to the point, as
a jovial child-man personality beloved by his small Texas town of
Carthage while at the same time, strangely insistent in his constant
presence in their lives. His pointed need for universal acceptance and
unconditional love is what makes Bernie unique as a screen creation. It
takes Black's oddly discomfiting screen persona to make the character
work as a protagonist of closeted complexity, and in turn, he delivers
his most accomplished screen work to date. No stranger to Texas-size
guffaws intermingled with wry observations about human nature, the
versatile Linklater ("Before Sunrise/Sunset") tells this
hard-to-believe, true-crime story with both morbid humor and surprising
Based on a seriocomic 1998 Texas Monthly article by co-screenwriter Skip Hollandsworth, the plot revolves around the unlikely relationship between Bernie, a relentlessly thoughtful assistant funeral director, and Marjorie Nugent, recently widowed and one of the richest women in Carthage. As Bernie becomes indispensable to the fabric of the community with his acts of charitable kindness, his Broadway-style choir solos, and his gentlemanly way of comforting widows in the throes of their grief, the ever-scowling Marjorie is always ready for battle with not only the townsfolk who impede on her life but even her immediate family who can't stand her. Bernie, however, is able to breakthrough her icy veneer with his cheery persistence, and their relationship evolves into an unhealthy codependence to put it mildly. As Marjorie lavishes Bernie with expensive gifts and luxurious vacations, she grows increasingly manipulative in her need to control his every move to meet her every need.
Even Bernie has his limits about what he is willing to do under her iron fist, and needless to say, consequences ensue. For all the dire consequences, Linklater keeps the mood buoyant with the insertion of intertitles to signal what question the movie will address next and with the brief interviews he includes with both actors and true residents of Carthage, all showing their unqualified support of Bernie through his burgeoning troubles. Much like Warren Beatty did in "Reds", Linklater uses them as a cumulative Greek chorus who on one hand, provide some of the film's biggest laughs, and on the other, illustrate just how myopic and oppressive a small town can be in its rumor mongering ways, so much so that Bernie's trial has to be moved fifty miles away in order to allow the light of objectivity to filter into the proceedings. As Bernie, Black finally has a multi-dimensional role that fits him perfectly, and I would be hard pressed to identify anyone else who could have played the character to the seriocomic depths he achieves here.
Well into her seventh decade of movie stardom, Shirley MacLaine is not particularly challenged in portraying Marjorie's sourpuss nature since she's been playing variations on the same role since her turn as the ornery Ouisa in "Steel Magnolias". However, in one key scene, she lets loose all her insecurities that exposes the impenetrable cage in which she has put the increasingly desperate Bernie. Linklater favorite Matthew McConnaughey ("Dazed and Confused") plays the showboating district attorney Danny Buck with gusto, although I wish he was reined in a bit more to provide more of a contrast to the other two principal actors. The movie is a fascinating meld of the Coen Brothers' "Fargo" and Hal Ashby's "Harold and Maude" with an unexpected dose of Christopher Guest's mockumentaries. While Linklater does not completely avoid making Carthage the object of ridicule, he has made a black comedy with surprising resonance when all is said and done, especially when you see the real Tiede in an archival video clip at the end.
Don't you hate it when you see a funny movie and think at the end, wow, that could have been so much funnier? This movie really is funny, and Jack Black is kind of brilliant at being this man who has incredible generosity and a quirky kind of social skill to be everyone's favorite. And who ends up taking care of the richest woman in town, getting his name on her will, and so on, as you can guess.
To get the gags and to give a sense of documentary reality, clips of interviews with colorful townsfolk of all types are shown, and they are some of the funniest moments. When these same people are shown again and again there is a sense of welcome familiarity--an update on things from a known face--but also a sameness to the movie. It falls into a pattern. And it's a major part of the movie, with thirty of these talking heads, so naturally the momentum of the main plot is slowed down often. As the events become more extreme, the movie does not. It plods along, relying on some great idiosyncratic acting and the weird (and exaggerated?) East Texas culture.
But Black inhabits his character so well it's scary. The other big name (the biggest name) is Shirley MacLaine, who doesn't actually have that much to do (most of the time she is silent, just ominous or dour). And she of course doesn't make it through the whole film (the trailer and teaser give away too much on that score). The third name is Matthew McConaughey, and he's predictably fun and funny, though he blends in with lots of other unknown characters who are also fun and funny.
So it's the scenario, and some funny writing, that carries the day. Well done stuff. Director and writer Richard Linklater is a curious talent, a little all over the map but good at several things, including just being offbeat enough to seem like the Indie director he once was. His pair of movies "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset" are growing into unlikely classics (I like them both a lot) and yet he is also known for lesser comedies like "Dazed and Confused" and now this one.
Yeah, see this for some good laughs. The beginning will seem a little like a lame "Six Feet Under" episode, but stick with it. Black's character is utterly convincing, and funny. A good time.
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