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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.
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.
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%
Had this been all there was to the story, it really wouldn't have been that entertaining (though it would have been pretty bizarre). However, the filmmaker (Richard Linklater) constructed the film in such a wonderful way that the film cannot help but hook you. In a WEIRD move, he has many of the actual townsfolk interviewed and inserted throughout the film. A few were actually actors--most were just folks who loved Bernie and couldn't stand Marjorie and wanted to talk about it! And so, the film consists of these interviews as well as actors playing out the story--making it a documentary...of sorts. It also helped Linklater and the movie that the actors, particularly Jack Black, did a wonderful job. And, is helped that the writers (one of which was Linklater himself) did such a dandy job. In particular, I loved how the film got the sound of the Southern Bible Belt folks. I am VERY familiar with this region and the conversations they had made me laugh because they sounded so true--such as the women in the Bible study who were debating if Jesus turned the water into REAL ALCOHOLIC wine! I also adored the guy who described the various regions at the beginning of the film--priceless and VERY funny--especially when he was describing Austin!
So, how truthful is the film? Well, according to an article that my wife and I read by one of Marjorie's relatives, VERY true and very realistic. I was surprised that they didn't complain about how horrible she and the other family members seemed in the film! And, they, too, thought Bernie was a nice guy despite his having murdered Marjorie!
By the way, if you get a chance, you can read through Bernie Tiede's web blog--all the way from his prison cell! Surprisingly, it seems (according to the web pages) that he has a LOT of support for his release--including from Black and Linklater. Weird.
Overall, a brilliantly made and highly original film. I have no idea if the film will be nominated for any awards, but it should. Linklater and Black deserve some recognition for this movie.
Bernie arrives in town and lucks upon a job at the local funeral parlor. He takes great care in making the deceased look as good as possible, from trimmed eyelashes to the positioning of the hands and head. Bernie takes his job seriously. He runs the funerals, leading the mourners in song, reading from the Bible, and so on; he comforts the widows and does all he can to ease their pain. He's a true find, right?
One of these old biddies is Mrs. Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), a despised, bitter older woman who has money and no friends whatsoever. All overtures to communicate and bond with Mrs.Nugent by the town are for naught. Except for Bernie, who - as his custom - pays his respects after the funeral to the new widow. After the second visit, she invites him in, and over some time they become friends. The change in Mrs. Nugent is remarkable; she is a nicer person and much happier. She and Bernie go on vacations and other trips together. Finally, she feels, someone who does not hate her.
Mrs. Nugent gets Bernie to quit his job at the funeral home and work for her part time - essentially as a servant. Seems like a sweet deal at first, but eventually she becomes paranoid that he'll leave her at any moment, and he becomes concerned that she's turning into quite the possessive witch. That, as the synopsis might tell you on other sites - this is not a spoiler - induces him to perform a most heinous deed.
The story is told in the framework of a documentary, with on-camera exposition provided by the town's denizens. Most are gossipy, but none of them stand out as mean-spirited - just normal folks, as they might say. About the only two characters who don't open up to the camera are Bernie and Mrs. Nugent themselves. This little trick by director Richard Linklater helps not only move the plot along but also serves us sometimes conflicting information, depending on the source - even when we see things with our own eyes.
The first half of the story is amusing, mostly about how wonderfully generous Bernie is to everyone. And then the crime occurs, and the various citizens react differently. But here's the rub - Bernie is such a magnificent guy, there are some who don't even care if he IS guilty. Star district attorney Danny Buck (Matthew McConaughey) has an open-and- shut case, complete with a confession. All that remains is the trial and the aftermath.
This is more of a character study - of Bernie alone - than anything else. It could have been played for sharp laughs or even as a suspenseful thriller. Linklater plays it more or less straight, essentially saying, "Here's your man, here's what others think of him, what do you think?" And indeed, what are we to think? There are some head-scratching questions by the end. Here's a non-spoiler one: Why was Bernie even in that town? Did he choose it randomly? Did he premeditate the events that unfolded? Okay, three questions, but all valid. None will ruin the movie for you. See it for Black and MacLaine and a realistic look at small-town Texans.
The film is told like a documentary with interviews with people who knew the pair along with flashbacks to stages in their relationship. It's an interesting format and one that works well. The story flows well and holds your attention throughout. This is a good example of a black comedy that really works with a sparkling and very witty script with lots of well observed and funny moments but also some good dark drama.
It features a strong cast with Jack Black as a popular mortician.The stand out performance for me was by Matthew McConaughey as the charismatic cop trying to put Black behind bars.
Bernie is one of those films that you watch with low expectations but which surprises you with how good it is. It deserves a much higher rating than it's current 6.8 (36,466 votes). Highly recommended.
'Bernie' is shot in the style of a pseudo-documentary, with some of the actual townspeople in Carthage, periodically recounting both their impressions of their former neighbor as well as the events that led to his downfall. The odd thing is that they never had a bad word to say about him. Quite the contrary, the community seems to have regarded Bernie as the nicest guy that ever came to their small town.
Bernie's strategy for endearing himself with the community is to go the extra mile in his position as assistant funeral director. Even after the funerals are over, he'll go over to the widow's homes and bring them flowers. He also ingratiates himself with the men of Cartharge by helping them with tax advice. Before you know it, just about everybody in Cartharge knows who Bernie is, and loves him to the hilt.
Bernie has a penchant for spending a great deal of money on credit and develops a habit of giving out presents to various townspeople. His ship comes in when he meets Marjorie Nugent, an extremely wealthy widow, who is hated by just about everyone in town, due to a bad case of unrelenting meanness. Nugent makes Bernie her personal assistant and eventually drives him crazy with her need for constant attention. SUPER SPOILERS AHEAD. She berates him and nags him to the point where he impulsively shoots her in the back four times with one of her own rifles. Bernie stuffs the body in a freezer and pretends she's still alive. As Marjorie was so disliked in the community and had no communication with her relatives, it took about nine months before her stockbroker managed to convince the police to search the house.
The humor in 'Bernie' is due to the myopic view of the townspeople. Because Marjorie was so hated and Bernie, so beloved, most of the people in Carthage are willing to forgive him for his 'sins'. Some even go so far to insist that Bernie is innocent, despite his immediate confession to the police. When the District Attorney has Bernie's trial moved to San Antonio, Bernie's defense attorney bemoans the fact that this is the first time in his career that a trial is moved because the defendant's peers view him as innocent. Carthage townspeople end up expressing anger and frustration toward the San Antonio jury, who in their eyes, are unable to understand why Bernie is such a 'good guy'.
The performers here are a hoot, particularly Matthew McConaughey as DA Danny Buck Davidson. Jack Black transforms himself into a gay charmer turned murderer with aplomb and Shirley MacLaine, in a limited role, conveys the wealthy widow's narcissism to a tee. But it's the actual people of Carthage that steal the show and make this offbeat indie, highly entertaining.
'Bernie' begins to slow down at the end, as there are few surprises when he's put on trial and the defense attorney is no match for the wily District Attorney. But Bernie's story on the whole is quite engrossing not only as a fascinating character portrait but for its analysis of how an entire group of townspeople is seduced, leading to a breakdown of their moral compass.
If Jack never does another movie, he's solid gold forever with this movie. The supporting cast from Shirley McClaine to Matthew Mcconaughey and all the townspeople were superb, direction was unobtrusive, editing was natural, and the styling was perfection.
A tip of my hat to everyone connected to this golden masterpiece, and Jack Black's star is shining in the heavens.
Free Bernie! and more great scripts for Jack Black.
Following School of Rock (2006), Richard Linklater's second film starring Jack Black is a black comedy, well-acted, unusual and uproariously funny. There's no irreverence here in turning a true murder into a comedic tale either because there's great intent and purpose to how the humour is used. Linklater, who wrote the screenplay with Skip Hollandsworth, uses the comedic element to bridge the distance between the audience and what is a closed, remote community. Real East Texan citizens are used as extras in the film, which means that the film could not be accused of forgetting their humanity, even when they throw their judgement down on the rest of Texas, which they believe to be divided into discrete parts. "More tattoos than teeth," is how one man describes the jury that Bernie faces in another part of the state. Through the use of comedy, the film amounts to is a story about segregation and the way that people use their personal bonds, like religion, to protect the members of their own private community. Engaging with mockumentary features, including interviews with the Texans, the film is fascinating in its own impartiality and moral ambiguity. Marjorie is characterised as a truly horrible person, played with unrelenting coldness by MacLaine, and seems overtly willing to torment Bernie, using even the slightest mannerisms to antagonise him. But the film never glosses over the fact that he did shoot her repeatedly in the back with a rifle, left her body in a freezer for months and spent her money on the town. The reaction of the community, in defending Bernie, is a more significant subject for the film than taking either side of the law. One of the most darkly funny moments is when a woman states: "He only shot her four times, not five". The ironic tone of the dialogue reveals the arguably elitist nature of the community, and it is their acceptance of Bernie, and not Marjorie, which in their eyes elevates him above any wrongdoings.
One of the other fascinating moral questions of the film stems from the monetary aspect of the crime. Bernie did spend Marjorie's money after her death, not for himself but to help to develop the town. He gave money to people so that they could buy children's play equipment and also develop a Sunday school at the Methodist church. This asks us whether destruction can ever be a form of creation and arguably the town's support for this notion appeals to their interpretation and response to the Bible itself. The film's moral ambiguity and interest is further balanced by Jack Black's amusing and surprising performance. It did take a while for me to warm to him because he's flamboyant as I have never seen him like that before and I wasn't sure at times whether I was meant to be laughing, especially when he is singing. Progressively though, Black shows depth in ways that I would describe as delicate and subtle, words not often associated with the big man. The strength of his increasingly watchable performance coincides with the transformation of his character. In selective close-up shots, Black reveals his gradual intolerance for Marjorie, as she takes total advantage of him, followed by the disillusionment with his own reckless actions. His lack of self- understanding and disbelief in himself characterises him tragically but we still remember that he is responsible and holds little explanation. At the other end of spectrum is Matthew McConaughey who is very funny as a toothpick chewing district attorney. When asked to comment on Bernie he says: "He's angel alright! An angel of death!" That line brought some big laughs at the screening. Watching him dismantle Bernie during the trial proves as tense as any scene from a summer blockbuster. As a moderately scaled film, this is as dramatic or as emotionally involving as the narrative becomes. But unlike a lot of contemporary comedies, there is an indispensable subtext regarding the enclosing nature of religious communities that belies the film's quirkiness and peculiarity.
Jack as Bernie exposed some serious singing/dancing chops too, as he not only was a meticulous funeral home star, he also starred in church and social activities that only someone who had his great talent to please and entertain in his heart could ever do. But, Bernie perhaps showed his greatest talent as the only person in town who could tolerate and even befriend Mrs. Nugent(a really old Shirley MacLaine), the town's presiding meanest old bitch. After he slowly became irreplaceable to her by always agreeably doing her ridiculous bidding, she hired Bernie to travel the world with her on her dime and to be her personal manservant/slave, which sadly decomposed to a low point where the shocking and unbelievable event that caused Bernie's downfall was sure to happen.
This hilarious mockumentary is making a serious surge to the head of the line for "Best Movie of 2012 So Far". Don't miss it.
Bernie follows the story of a beloved funeral director who befriended a widow known for being just the opposite with a sour attitude on life. After slowly taking over her affairs, she becomes fully dependent on him increasing her demands to almost unbelievable proportions. After the towns people do not see her for months her body is discovered and none other than Bernie is charged with the murder. This movie is crafted in a genius way that tells this unique dark funny tale as well as makes it feel almost like a documentary. Throughout the film there are testimonials with various townspeople that are really entertaining and become the center piece to making this film work. Jack Black brings the strange yet likable aspect to this weird little man to brilliant life with one of his best performances to date. Working side by side with Shirley MacLaine he held his own like a champ with both of them having some strange chemistry that just worked really well. McConaughey brought another lovable quirkiness to his character that worked so well. This is an interesting film that is really funny and so over the top that it sucks you in that this really happened.
Bernie is one of those unique movies that just work on every level. It seemingly does what they are trying to do, both funny and dark without ever getting too deep into either aspect. Full of great characters, brilliant dialogue, and a story like no other, Bernie is a must see film for not only fans of the actors involved, but for everyone.
From the quirky cast of townspeople - which in and of themselves are completely worth the price of admission - to the two co-stars and the Incredible Mr Black, this film was perfection.
Those of you who love the traditional jack Black, there is plenty of musical comedy to keep you happy, no worries there. His renditions of classic gospel songs equals anything he has done to date! MAJOR kudos to the casting team on this one, you nailed it! One complaint - how did McConaughey get first billing on the "BERNIE" page on IMDb?? Really IMDb, really?? SEE THIS FILM!!
Colorful characters talk directly to the camera in pseudo documentary style. It works. Shirley Maclane deserves credit for being bad and looking worse on the screen.
Jack Black doing "The Music Man" was a fun. The movie is a tad long and drags a bit during the courtroom scene. The photos and clips during the end credits are worth staying for. It's a small movie that is worth seeing.
Bernie (Jack Black) is an odd sort of fellow. He's a mortician who sends off the deceased from small town Texas to Heaven in style. Little old ladies love him; he goes to church, donates his time and money and is liked by everybody. He's quiet, but sings sweetly, and appears to be happy just being himself. Larger-than-life comedians take note of Black's subdued, character-enlightening and hilarious performance.
Bernie meets wealthy widow Marjorie (Shirley MacLaine) and like with all little old ladies, he wants to make sure that she's properly cared for during this tough time. The difference is that this time she's trying to keep distance from his flirtations rather than the other way around. She's not nice, and the other residents are pretty sure there is only word that suitably describes her. She has one son and four grandkids; some of whom have attempted to sue her, and the others have actually sued her.
Bernie and Marjorie have a need for each other; money, companionship, and who knows what else. Their relationship is simultaneously unclear and creepy. This is where the plot develops. Bernie is up to something and the townsfolk are either going to stand by their man or paint him as a criminal (or homosexual, because in Carthage, Texas they're pretty much one in the same). Bernie's main adversary is District Attorney Danny Buck (Matthew McConaughey). He's sure that Bernie is gay and he's also sure that Bernie is up to no good and will pay for whatever crime he has committed. McConaughey was extremely funny and was able to play into his Texas background but was completely different from anything he has done before. There's something special about an actor who can follow up the success of "Magic Mike" (2012) with something like this.
Linklater has followed this true story to the letter, even using real town residents to introduce us to the character of Bernie. His genius comes through in the writing. The dialogue is unbelievably funny and he uses people's need to laugh rather than their commitment to empathy to get us to connect to this film. Considering how funny and enjoyable the rest of "Bernie" was, the ending seemed out of place. Upon further reflection, it was exactly the kind of jolt back to reality that was needed.
Mr. Linklater perfectly casts Jack Black (with whom he had done School of Rock) as the community's favorite citizen Bernie, Shirley MacLaine as the rich, bitter widow with whom Bernie becomes entwined, and Michael McConaughy (another Linklater alum, on the cusp of his career makeover) as the district attorney who must prosecute Bernie despite public opinion that Bernie should go free. All three stars give wonderful performances – most of all Mr. Black who restrains himself from his usual attention-grabbing antics and gives a well-controlled performance, including several songs that were quite unexpected.
This beautiful character study has its moments of comedy, but it is the finely detailed performances that make it something special.