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Bernie is a really fun and enjoyable dark comedy, starring Jack Black
and Shirley MacLaine. This is actually the true story of what happened
between a purely good man and a purely evil woman.
Jack Black plays Bernie Tiede, an assistant undertaker in the small town of Carthage, Texas. He is loved by everybody for his pure-hearted character, his sympathy for every person he comes across and his willingness to help everyone who needs it in any way, shape or form. He's just such a good guy, you almost wouldn't believe it if not for the fact that this character is based on an actual person.
And then there's Marjorie Nugent, played by Shirley MacLaine. She is his polar opposite, as hated as Bernie is loved. She is the widow of some rich oil baron, and she is just the most mean and spiteful woman you could ever fear to meet. Everyone in town absolutely hates her guts, and there's no one who would be sorry to see her go...
Then comes the day when these two people meet and all due to Bernie's good nature form an unlikely friendship. Until about two years later when Marjorie's true personality rears its ugly head and even Bernie can't stand her abuse any longer, when he is reduced to her personal slave and whipping boy. And what no one believed possible, happens... He kills her. (don't worry, that's not a spoiler, that's the story line.) What follows is the strange lengths Bernie attempts to go to, in order to cover up his crime.
What makes this film work so well is mostly the subtle humour of it. Director Richard Linklater thankfully didn't choose to make this into the hysterical, caricature of a comedy it easily could have been. Something that really adds to the authenticity of the film is the use of actual Carthage townsfolk, providing commentary on the events in documentary-like interview scenes. This really is a perfect move on the director's part, because it makes the 'acting' completely real and spontaneous.
I really like Jack Black, but in this case, I'm somewhat glad he left his crazy mannerisms and facial expressions at the door, in order to just play this character true-to-form. He actually acts, rather than just playing another silly, typical "Jack Black character".
I always love watching Shirley MacLaine in a mean and vile role such as this one, and in 'Bernie', she plays it to a T once again. Imagine her character in 'Steel Magnolia's' and then multiply it by ten. That's what you get here and it's an absolute joy to watch.
Matthew McConaughey plays the county sheriff, dead-set on burning Bernie for his crime. I'm usually not too fond of him, but his role in 'Bernie' is pretty funny and he plays it well. He seems to be the only person in town who thinks it's bad what happened to Marjorie. That's another really funny aspect to this story the fact that everybody involved just loves Bernie so much and really hates Marjorie to the bone, that they all seem to take his side in the matter. You might feel like I'm just throwing spoilers at you here, but pretty much the whole story is told in hindsight and flashbacks, so there are no real secrets or mysteries unveiled. Then what's the point of watching, you might ask, if I already know everything that's going to happen from the get-go? The point is the enjoyment you'll get from watching these events unfold.
The actors are all really well cast, and they play their roles with a certain flair that makes them instantly likable. The dialogue is clever and witty, and like I mentioned earlier, the combination of event re-enactment and documentary-like interviews, is a winning ticket and 'Bernie's' major selling point. The story is well constructed, as is the chronology of how it unfolds. Basically, it's just very well-made, and it definitely would have deserved a little more credit. But then again, this film also kind of has a "small budget/small audience" feel to it, so that might explain why it practically went unnoticed at the box office. It's just a shame that charming little comedies like 'Bernie' always get overlooked when stuff like 'The Hangover' and the like get multi-million dollar appraisal. All I can hope for is that 'Bernie' gathers its own DVD-fan base, because it's certainly worth it.
Watch this film if you're in the mood a darkly hilarious comedy that has its heart in the right place. Oh, and stick around for the credits, where you can see pictures of the actual Bernie and Marjorie, and footage of Bernie and Jack Black talking, which is a fun addition.
All in all, a highly recommended film!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
East Texas is an interesting part of the country, and with its rolling
hills and old-growth pine forests unique among the various regions of
the state. When you travel along highway 59 north from Houston, as I
have done many times, you pass right through Carthage. I never gave
much thought to this fairly ordinary East Texas town, but something
very interesting was going on there in 1996.
Jack Black is just ideal as Bernie Tiede, chubby, happy, "light in the loafers" assistant undertaker at the local funeral home. Bernie enjoys life and likes people, especially the little old ladies. Bernie also loves theater and loves to sing (Jack Black, it turns out, has a really good singing voice) whether it be on stage or hymns in church.
Shirley MacLaine, one of my favorites over the years, is little old local wealthy lady Marjorie Nugent. After her husband died Bernie did what he could to be nice to Marjorie, such as going to her home to give her little gifts, bath soap and brownies, for example. Marjorie didn't have friends, even her other family members shunned her, she had a reputation for being so difficult. Some even considered her hateful.
But she takes a liking to Bernie's company. Soon they are going places together, shopping for nicer clothes, and eventually taking trips, even out of the country. But Marjorie started to be mean to Bernie, she demanded he become only part-time at the funeral home, she wanted him to be with her all the time, he eventually became almost her servant. Bernie became increasingly wary of her.
Then one day the local people quit seeing Marjorie. Her financial adviser asked about her. Her long-time hairdresser was disappointed that she quit going to him. Bernie told them she had had a mild stroke and was in a hospital out of town, that she needed rest and recovery time. But people became suspicious.
One of those was Matthew McConaughey as local D.A. Danny Buck . He was determined to get to the bottom of all this.
Bernie, Marjorie, and Danny are real people, and all this really happened in Carthage from the late 1980s through the late 1990s. Jack Black shows his versatility, he doesn't miss a beat in his role as Bernie, making him funny but also real. The movie uses many local non-actors who appear interview-style telling various (scripted) stories about Bernie and Marjorie. Many of them actually knew them.
This is a somewhat quirky story, some may not like it, but for me it was a total fun movie. Plus the extras on the DVD are in many ways as interesting as the movie itself, and gives additional insights into Carthage and the Bernie story.
SPOILERS: After Marjorie was missing for several months the police opened her home to search for any evidence of wrong-doing. In the garage they found Marjorie's body in the chest-type freezer, frozen under various food packages. She had been shot, four times, in the back. (A very brief early scene depicts it.) Bernie, a non-violent person, had just "snapped" under her oppressive treatment. But he knew she needed a proper burial, that is why he kept her in the freezer. In a legal twist, the trial was moved to a different region, so that there could be a fair trial, because Bernie was so well-liked they were afraid no Carthage jury would convict him. Today Bernie is serving his prison time in a Texas prison.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Jack Black comes roaring back with a tour de force and it's not
coincidental it occurs with Richard Linklater. This movie is almost so
perfect for Jack Black it as if it is a vehicle for him, but, and
here's the really compelling part, it is based on the true story of
Bernie Tiedum. Fact, many times, is superior to fiction and this is a
raging case in point.
Small town Missouri, Carthage to be exact, widow has more money than the town itself, but is harrowingly mean. Enter one man, an anomaly if you will, an assistant funeral director with an ambiguous sexual orientation and a lot of humanity. That's Bernie Tiedum. He probably wouldn't fit in any world but he fits like hand in glove in the small town of Carthage. He is beyond reproach in his day job of handling funerals of the locals with sincere attention to detail. His other activities center on making Carthage a richer town such as his creating a playhouse where the locals can enjoy culture otherwise only available in the metropolitan cities. He's active in not just the lives of senior citizens, but the families of the town. He's an odd duck to be sure, but he is genuinely well-liked and seen as a upright man full of civic pride. In his desire to be these things he happens to befriend a widow who most folks shun due to her decidedly dour demeanor. It is probably fair to say that due her wealth, as well as his disposition, a working relationship evolves whereby Bernie echews his other jobs to a degree and becomes her paid man-servant and confidant. Stranger things have happened, but not, perhaps, in Carthage.
This is the jumping off point of the movie Bernie. Bernie is, like the title character himself, and odd-duck of a movie. It's done in docu-drama style and, I must say, the format is done justice. The pairing of Linklater and Black makes for a sum possibly bigger than the parts. While most have never heard of this strange saga in the movie it is treated as if viewer is is privy to one of the eras great mysterious happenings. First, I credit Jack Black. Black is at his best in the role of Bernie. He truly brings on-screen life to a character that is rich and colorful...and very human if odd. Linklater's deft touch in the script and direction is perfect for Black's performance as it takes what could be a very dark story and breathes tremendous light and balance to exactly the way the town felt about the whole affair. If it were up to this reviewer Black has a Academy Award nomination for best actor in the bag with Linklater being, perhaps, also nominated for direction. The whole story could have fell apart as dreck, but much the opposite occurs as it is interesting, endearing, and entertaining.
Truth is that justice was served in the final chapter. Matthew McConaughey's district attorney is the only part that seems to be pandering...But, I imagine the real life person this was based on couldn't help but use this as his own personal "spring-board" so even in this performance there is still good merit (McConaughey's role as supporting star works versus his usual "miss" starring roles). See this film. It's an Americana slice of rural life presented in a unique way which informs, but ultimately is great entertainment.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Jack Black is something else, a man who doesn't look like a star, an
everyman, the perfect person to play "Bernie", a real-life character
who must be seen to believed, a person who won the hearts of many in
Carthage, Texas, made more than few contributions to his community, and
for the most part had that community overlook some of his
eccentricities. Eventually, Bernie finds himself indicted for a crime
he confessed committing, and then the whole world goes crazy.
Bernie is composed of a many real-life testimonies who help you understand who this man was. Many of the stories are unbelievable and quite amusing. You know no one could have fabricated some of those facts. The other part of the movie has the reenactments by a very talented cast, headed by Black and Shirley Maclaine, making a triumphant return to the top of her talents. She makes her Mrs. Nugent one of her most memorable creations. There is so much power in Ms. Maclaine's eyes, as her character is one who has managed to build quite a negative reputation in her city for being a hateful and guarded person who can't trust almost no one, until Bernie walks into her life, and she lets her guard down.
Another surprise is Mccaunaghey who plays a prosecutor who is known to be one of the few people in Carthage who doesn't trust Bernie's good nature at all. He seems to have plenty of integrity and intelligence, and when he finally gets to try Bernie there's plenty of conviction in the way he delivers his lines.
"Bernie" is a small but potent dark comedy, a film that will have you laughing at the most unexpected situations, at how strange human nature can be, and it can also make you think that life is truly stranger than fiction.
An amazing movie. One off movie we come across. Curiously directed with lots of direct - interview type story telling. I saw it in Singapore and fell in love with the way the story was cinematographers. I liked it immensely. Mr.Black's acting reveals the character of Bernie splendidly. The town folk to have done a great job. Carthage has now joined the annals of great cinema places. Kudos to Mr.Linklater. I would not hesitate to get a DVD when released. The humor is soft and direct to laugh. It is easy to despise the action of district attorney. But one has to understand that it was his job to bring to justice, those responsible for crime.
I first became aware of this film at the Dallas International Film Festival, but did not have the opportunity to see it. I didn't realize going into the theater that this was a true story and after viewing the film it remains a truly unbelievable story. The story centers on an assistant funeral director in the small rural town of Carthage, Texas. The events take place in 1996 and I tried to recall if I remembered anything in the news about it, but I don't. Director Richard Linklater came back to his home state and discovered a gem of a story, just waiting to be told. Once the film begins you find yourself really liking Bernie Tiede (Jack Black). He is very charismatic, charming and just an all around good guy. Even from the start you want to root for him, even when things start to unravel. I have to say that I think that this is one of Jack's standout performances. Danny Buck (Matthew McConaughey) was a typical district attorney although somewhat toned down since there is not much that goes on in a small town. This role was a perfect casting for Matthew since he possesses that charming southern accent. There is something very appealing about Matthew and courtrooms (A Time to Kill, The Lincoln Lawyer). Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) was feisty and direct. She kind of reminds me of Weezer in Steel Magnolias. Shirley also gave a standout performance because as soon as she hit the screen, you knew that you were not going to like her. The relationship that builds between Bernie and Marjorie is unconventional and somewhat strange, which I guess is what makes this story so crazy. The various town people who narrate the film only adds to the funny moments in the film and really gives the film the sense that it is an actual true story. This docu-dramady was highly entertaining and you never really knew where the story was going. This film is both complex and intriguing. Although this is not a monumental film, it was very charming and definitely kept your attention. I did not expect the film to be as good as it was, so if you get a chance to see it, I highly recommend it. In this case, facts are stranger than fiction and you will leave the theater thinking "did that really happen?". I am giving this film a glaring green light.
Richard Linklater reunites with his School of Rock star Jack Black, and
provided the latter with what would probably be his best film role to
date, without the need to go over the top in comedy, but having to rely
on his dramatic acting, and great singing voice. Yes you read that
right. Jack Black isn't always the comedian on film, and has a couple
of more serious roles under his belt which usually are quite
understated. Then there's his singing voice, put to good use here
singing soulful renditions of hymns given the nature of the job role of
his titular character.
What would transpire in the film would be larger than life instead, but in truth it's based on a real incident, about the circumstances behind a cold blooded murder that would be seen almost like a bade joke. No offence meant to the victim's relatives of course, as Bernie takes on what would be a docu-drama style, interviewing real people on their memory about the incident and their feelings toward Bernie Tiede, where in a small town community of Carthage, Texas, everyone presumably knows everyone else in consummate terms, truth, rumour or both.
Interspersed with these engaging talking head moments and interviews, are the fictional re- enactments of these scenes, or played out with drama or comedy just to make the presentation fresh despite having a documentary-like feel. And you have to salute Linklater's ability to extract plenty of honest emotions especially when talking about people the interviewees dislike, and to do so on camera. I would have rooted for more because these moments in the film made it what it is, and is akin to neighbourhood gossipy moments where one listens in to hear the latest on what goes on, only that we cannot add our two cents worth since it's not interactive.
Jack Black's Bernie is a character with good intentions. Trained as a mortician, and then becoming assistant funeral director, we learn a lot about his background given the focus on his early days in the profession. Linklater went for the morbid jugular with having Bernie dress up a corpse as an introduction to what he does, through an instructional session given to students, providing plenty of insights on the process that I didn't know about. He's good natured, from what we see and hear, until something within him snapped when he got a wee bit too friendly with town grouch Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) who coincidentally is one of the richest widows around.
The film doesn't go all out to paint Bernie as a gold digger, but I suppose he lived long enough to see himself become the villain, especially so when Marjorie's reach becomes all encompassing and stifling, monitoring every move Bernie makes, coupled with unreasonable demands that makes PMS handling look like a walk in the park. Shirley MacLaine plays this role to perfection, so much so that you'll grow to hate her, and maybe it's Linklater's intent to make the viewer sympathize and throw in support at Bernie's corner. MacLaine nails the irritating nature of the character, complete with passive-aggressive behaviour that makes claws on chalkboard more tolerable, and to watch her acting cute, just sends shivers.
While Matthew McConaugney probably overdid his Southern Drawl as the district attorney keen to nail Bernie and get to the truth, his hamming it up served as one of the highlights of the film, as do the real talking heads interviews conducted to give us all a little bit of a reality check of a very skewed modern day Robin Hood of sorts. Recommended for its unique perspective and presentation.
Jack Black inhabits the character of Bernie Thiede, a fastidious, slightly epicene, extremely civic minded assistant mortuary director, who becomes enmeshed in the extremely demanding clutches of the wealthiest widow of Carthage, Texas. All of the performances in this film are spot on brilliant, but most especially those of the chorus of Carthage's upstanding citizenry, who are all anxious that Bernie receive justice, tempered strongly with mercy. This film marks the first time I've enjoyed seeing Matthew McConaughey on screen since DAZED AND CONFUSED; perhaps he should work with Richard Linklater more often.
I know I'm not supposed to like a flick like this because it's got all
the wrong things; interviews, way too much exposition, an operatic
style (simple story, drawn out to feature-length), ...and so much more.
But it's such an obvious labor of love. And... What a story! It's very simple, and the moral is a direct one: Every last mother-loving one of us has within us the potential to act out that which Bernie did.
Of course, there's a lot that the movie does very, very well. The most important thing, of course, is how the setup for the critical moment is cleverly designed and paced to drive home the all-important moral.
Everything beyond that is icing on a strange and wonderful cake. The flick is witty and rollicking and fun. It showcases the southern, "hick" language, style, and mentality, while simultaneously humbling us by reminding us of what can be easily forgotten; that deep humanity is the heritage of all God's human creations, regardless of culture and background.
I was recently reading about the film composer Nino Rota, and recalled the words of Fellini, when asked about him: "He's an angel of music". Well, Black's performance was nothing short of angelic, and I suspect that Linklater felt toward Black as Fellini did, working with Rota. This was a perfect vehicle for Black, showcasing his dancing/musical abilities, his comedic character chops and, amazingly, his ability to convincingly range into the serious drama of a deeply feeling man's moral crisis.
It was great to see MacLaine here. After the shameful misuse of her in the execrable "Mitty", her fine performance in Bernie redeems her nicely.
In short, a superb piece of aim-straight-for-the-heart filmic storytelling, and highly recommended.
I almost never do this, but while I would normally rate this a '9' (meaning, "perfect, with minor remonstrances"), I'm marking it '10', in part to try to do my part to yank it up from the sub-'7' doldrums.
All participants in this production should be very proud of their fine work.
Richard Linklater is one of cinema's most important and influential
filmmakers there is today and this film, Bernie really shows those
traits. He really know how to make films based off small towns and
their characters. The story that he tackles here is a really unique and
strange premise, and that works in the movie's favor. The film is
charming, if not somewhat eccentric. The movie has gotten me interested
in the real-life situation, so it may be time to hit the research
Linklater's film is about a man named Bernie Tiede who happens to be this well-loved man that is highly involved with the community. He is even able to befriend an elderly woman named Marjorie Nugent, who is despised in the town of Carthage, Texas. But one day, something clicks in Bernie and he kills Marjorie. The townspeople are shocked after hearing about Bernie being arrested.
Jack Black gives his best performance in years. He was magnificent as Bernie and although he gave up a creepy vibe at times, he truly flourished as Bernie. He did a good job in turning into a man who doesn't seem to realize the grave consequences of his actions. Shirley MacLaine does a great job as the elderly Marjorie, and did I ever hate her character! Matthew McConaughey does a good job as the prosecutor who is coming under fire for convicting Bernie.
Overall, Bernie is a wacky crime film, but it's entertaining. It's also funny, but not in the riotous kind of way. More of an amusing chuckle kind of way.....which is a great thing. I liked the style of the film and how it was filmed mockumentary-style. The real townspeople being interviewed was a good heads up on Linklater's part. Another reason why he is such a magnificent filmmaker. A very good, unique film. I rate this film 9/10.
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