Movie Review: Bernie (2012)


Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from netflix instant.

A polite, effusive, intelligent assistant funeral director, Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) is beloved by all in the small city of Carthage, Texas. He is very socially active in the community, especially in church and theater, but it is his unlikely friendship with wealthy, surly widow Marjorie (Shirley MacLaine) that eventually immortalizes him. The questions surrounding their relationship (at times manipulatively romantic, at others bordering on indentured servitude) are explored, as are the strange events surrounding Marjorie’s (premeditated?) death at the hands of Bernie himself. Told in a semi-documentary style, their tale is elaborated upon by actual denizens of Carthage through interviews, with key players depicted by actors.

Quirky and a little bit weird, Bernie is a fun and somewhat sad slice-of-life offering from Richard Linklater, whose films I’ve realized I’ve never reviewed on this site since I guess I watched several of his movies before starting a blog. Oh well. I loved the half-documentary, half-acted style of filmmaking, fusing fact and fiction and a whole lot of supposition. Jack Black is fantastic, funny and kooky and warm, with this slight hint of pent-up frustration that really does make you wonder, even though by the end you’re with everyone in the town and you want to believe him to be a good guy. He even gets to sing a bunch, and after seeing his rendition of “Seventy-Six Trombones” I’m convinced a Jack Black-starring Music Man is an excellent idea. MacLaine and McConaughey give great supporting performances, but their roles are limited. Also what the hell did they do to McConaughey’s hair? Seriously, he looks like shit and it’s unnerving. Is his hair the source of his power or something?

The story is a bit meandering, which I understand makes it more realistic since real life doesn’t follow the standard points of a fictional narrative, but it does make the movie drag at certain parts. But overall it’s charming for its earnest characterization, innovative stylization, and unexpected plot developments. Though I don’t know how much he adhered to the known facts of the story, Linklater seems intent on delivering some semblance of honesty and objectivity when representing this town and its inhabitants- at least I hope that’s true.


Pair This Movie With: The sensationalist real-life story and questionable events made me think of Tabloid, the memorable 20120 documentary from Errol Morris.

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