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Although uneven and at times unfocused, Bernie is the kind of movie
that hitches its wagon to the charisma of its star and goes along for
the ride. Jack Black plays a solicitous, generous assistant
funeral-home director in a small town who quickly gains the love and
respect of the town, particularly the elderly folks, as he immerses
himself into their lives. Black leaves the slapstick and crudity at
home and instead goes the route of Ben Stiller in Greenburg, although
not quite as dramatic, and he's really good in the role. In the end,
though, one might wonder what the point of the movie was, and for a
comedy - even a dark one - there are a lot of unanswered questions at
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.
I never thought Id be writing an appreciation of Jack Black as an actor, as he generally appears in limited roles as a boorish loudmouth, but in this dark, often sweet oddball satire, his performance as the titular character is never over the top, always gentle and subtly directing the viewer to a sympathetic portrait of a killer. Really outstanding in this sharp observational film is the sharp ensemble work by everyone in the cast, a huge supporting cast, some actual folks from Carthage, Texas, each giving a positive spin on character, with Matthew McConaughey continuing his string of outstanding portrayals--this film, Magic Mike, and the new Oliver Stone film shows he is much more than the usual goofy sex symbol And although her role is the kind Shirley MacLaine could do in her sleep, she makes wealth and privilege seem absolutely frightening in her chilly portrayal of a spoiled heiress we want to watch. I was also impressed by the end titles, which allow us a glimpse of each actor and the role played. This is 98 minutes of delight, a worthwhile satire combined with the creepy qualities of a true oddball character portrait!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you like dark comedies by all means find a way to see "Bernie". I do and I loved it. This little gem has everything going for it. The witty script by Skip Hollandsworth and Richard Linklater incorporates documentary elements to hilarious effect in recounting the true story of what happens in a small Texas town when a sunny, jovial funeral cosmetician, Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) starts up a relationship with the town's wealthy, old curmudgeon, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). These two characters evoke memories of Mister Rogers and Anne Ramsey of "Throw Momma From the Train". Black gives a great performance. It's a perfect marriage of actor and role down to the smallest detail. Screen legend Shirley MacLaine, who specialized in playing sweet, vulnerable ingenues in her early career, scores as a woman so mean she makes Leona Helmsley look like Mother Theresa. Matthew McConaughey shines in a supporting role as a cynical prosecutor convinced that beneath Bernie's good-natured exterior lies a heart of darkness. Director Richard Linklater does an excellent job of taking a grim subject and turning it into a wryly observant look at contemporary life and mores.
Jack Black could not be surpassed in his spot-on perfect role as a
smooth, calm, perfectly groomed and organized, sycophantic, servile,
gay/asexual "assistant funeral director" in this small East TX
community composed mostly of country oddballs and other distinctive
rural folk that were hilarious in their own right. The story was based
on real events, and real townspeople who knew the real Bernie were used
for extras/characters, and some were so good that it was clear that
they could have been real actors if they had chosen that direction
instead of staying in Carthage, TX and knowing the real Bernie. They
gave hilarious insights into Bernie and his story that otherwise would
not have been so uniquely entertaining and effective if actors were
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'Bernie' is based on a true story about Bernie Tiede, an assistant
funeral director, who comes to the small town of Carthage, Texas and
endears himself to its residents. Ironically, there's a scene later in
the film, where Bernie becomes involved in a local community production
of 'The Music Man', playing the beloved con man, Harold Hill. Bernie
essentially becomes a modern day con man and just as the residents of
the fictional town of River City fell for the sweet charms of the
smooth-talking Hill (and later forgave him for his transgressions), the
same happened with Bernie Tiede in Carthage. But while Hill was guilty
of larceny and impersonation, Bernie ended up guilty of much more!
'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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I sat down to watch this film at 2am--assuming I'd just watch a little
and then go to bed. However, I just couldn't stop watching. And, soon
my wife joined me and she, too, stayed up WAY later than she planned.
Why? Because this film is fascinating from start to finish and is truly
unique. It's the true story of Bernie Tiede and his BIZARRE, and
eventually fatal, relationship with Marjorie Nugent--a woman hated by
just about everyone--and eventually by Bernie as well. Now here's the
rub--despite Bernie having killed Marjorie, no one in the town seemed
to really think this was a bad thing. After all, the folk thought that
she WAS a horrible person and, if Bernie did do it, it couldn't have
been THAT bad! After all, they reasoned, he's such a wonderful and nice
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.
When I decided to watch this movie, I was under the impression it was suppose to be comedy, and while there are some humorous and funny moments, this is more of a drama than anything else. That said, this was a good movie, one that engages and hooks you almost from the very beginning. The fact that this is based on a true story actually helps make this even better, to think someone like "Bernie" really existed just helps draw you into his complex and quirky world. Jack Black is simply amazing in this role, that's a statement I never thought I'd make, but in truth he is suburb and possibly Oscar mention worthy. Here's my take away, this movie is worth your time or money whichever is more important to you. It's a enjoyable journey into a real life odd ball character that simply grows on you from start to end.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is based on the true story of Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), who is
the nicest man in the town of Carthage, Texas. He is an assistant
funeral director, attending to widows and speaking and singing at
funerals too. The townsfolk of Carthage lavish praise on Bernie for his
unconditional kindness. Yet for all of his goodness, there is equally
as much innuendo surrounding Bernie's private life. Some people
question whether he is gay but others believe that he is romantically
involved with Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), a cranky widow who is
disliked immeasurably by the entire town. She takes full advantage of
Bernie's generosity, gradually enslaving him with his own generosity.
The town is shocked when Bernie, discouraged by Marjorie's lack of
empathy, shoots the woman in the back repeatedly and is imprisoned. The
town remains in full support of Bernie but district attorney Danny Buck
(Matthew McConaughey), who doesn't care how nice Bernie is, and is
determined to have him sentenced for murder.
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.
There are movies that come along that fall in the comedy category, but
are based on series material so take a big risk at trying to make it
work. Richard Linklater and Jack Black have reteamed up for Bernie
bringing along Matthew McConaughey and Shirley MacLaine with them. This
film is based on true events that are based on an unfunny concept, but
is striving to deliver just that. Is it possible to have this cast and
director together and not deliver a good movie or is there a reason it
didn't get a wider release?
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.
Finally got to see this amazing film over the weekend. I wasn't sure
what to expect, not a huge fan of MacLaine and even less of
McConaughey, but wow! From the opening scene to the closing credits,
this film flat-out delivers.
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!!
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