BERNIE Send This Review to a Friend
Jack Black plays Bernie Tiede, a cheerfully smarmy undertaker who takes pleasure in making corpses look their best and comforting grieving widows, as well as participating in church and community activities. People like him, especially those he befriends. The story of “Bernie,” directed by Richard Linklater, who wrote the screenplay with Skip Hollandsworth, is based on the real-life character of a crime tale. As it turns out, Bernie is also a murderer and in prison.
Linklater uses the documentary device of assorted character types in Carthage, Texas, giving their glowing opinions about Bernie as Mr. Nice Guy, and even after he is brought to trial for murder, the favorable opinions are still high. This is a very good role for Black, and he makes the most of it.
One of the widows he befriends is the ill-fated Marjorie Nugent, viewed as a rich, mean-spirited woman and played by Shirley MacLaine, who also makes the most of her role. At first she is suspicious of Bernie’s attention, but she warms to him—warming to anybody is a feat for Marjorie—and he becomes her companion. They take trips together, and she has the money to lavish on him. Eventually, even after having him manage her holdings to the anger and resentment of her suspicious financial advisor, she starts treating Bernie like a servant at her beck and call. What is a poor guy to do but to shoot her and stuff her body in a freezer?
It falls to Matthew McConaughey as prosecutor Danny Buck to seek justice—and publicity—but he must get a different venue, as given how well liked Bernie is in Carthage and how scorned Marjorie has been, it would be hard to find a local jury that would convict him.
The film’s dark humor derives from Bernie’s affability and humility and the portrait of Carthage as a hick town. One laughs at the parade of locals, some of who are played by actual townspeople, spouting their views on Bernie. But after a while the device seems overworked, with Linklater driving it into the ground. However, the approach does express the overall tone of the film—admiration for a flawed protagonist who baffles everyone with his outburst that leads him to kill. “Bernie” is an oddball movie that can make you laugh while aware that the humor is of the gallows variety and the admiration for a murderer is misplaced. A Millennium Entertainment release.