Directed by Richard Linklater
Running time: 99 minutes
Short Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
In small-town Texas, an affable mortician strikes up a friendship with a wealthy widow, though when she starts to become controlling, he goes to great lengths to separate himself from her grasp.
I wrote a review for this trying to remain totally spoiler free and giving no more information than what’s showing in the above plot synopsis. Well, this is one time that was pretty impossible to do so I’ve had to start over. I think most people know what this movie is about anyway as it’s based on a true story plus it was in the news again recently. So, to more easily discuss this, I’ll include a more detailed plot synopsis. So…
***Spoilers if you know nothing about the real life story & don’t want to***
I don’t think it spoils the movie as I already knew all this before seeing it and it made me more interested anyway. I’ll of course not say what happens at the end for anyone who doesn’t know the outcome. Wikipedia plot synopsis:
Bernie is a 2011 black comedy film based on a 1998 Texas Monthly magazine article by Skip Hollandsworth, “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas,” that chronicles the 1996 murder of 81-year-old millionaire Marjorie Nugent in Carthage, Texas by her 38-year-old companion, Bernhardt “Bernie” Tiede. Tiede proved so highly regarded in Carthage that, in spite of having confessed to the police, the District Attorney was eventually forced to request a rare prosecutorial change of venue in order to secure a fair trial.
As I said in my review of Boyhood, I’m a Richard Linklater fan. Not sure why it took me so long to get around to watching this one as I also love Jack Black. I know he’s a “love him or hate him” kind of guy but he’s perfect in this and he’s NOTHING like he is in other roles so, if you like the sound of the movie but don’t like him, you really should still check it out. Plus – Shirley MacLaine! I love her too! I wish she’d been in this one for a bit longer but it was still a big role. Matthew McConaughey is in the film less than I expected him to be but he’s also absolutely perfect as the District Attorney. All three are perfect – I honestly don’t think they could have done a better job choosing the cast for this film.
This movie is indeed a black comedy. It’s weird to think that they made a black comedy out of a real-life murder. I can’t say I know how the real-life residents of the small town in which this occurred (Carthage, Texas) really feel about the movie (it’s touched on a little in the above Wikipedia link) but, as a form of entertainment, I think it works really well how they chose to present the story. Throughout the film, people from the town are “interviewed” about the murder and their thoughts on Marjorie Nugent & Bernie Tiede. Some are actors (including McConaughey’s real-life mother – she’s hilarious!) but apparently some are real people from Carthage. I loved these “interviews”, which were really just gossipy chats with small-town people. Being from a VERY small town myself, I could totally relate to these bits as everyone reminded me of various people from the little community where I grew up. I think adding this to the movie was a brilliant idea and it really made the film for me – they were quirky, likeable characters and they actually made me a little homesick. (Although I’d NEVER want to live in a small town again!). This movie captured small town life perfectly and I found it very endearing in a way (considering, you know, that it’s about a woman being murdered).
The way people feel about Jack Black is the same way they’ll feel about this movie: You’ll like it or you’ll hate it. If you don’t like black comedy, it’s best to avoid this one. It’s also very slow and there’s a lot of talking so it’s not for the impatient. I was a little worried at how they’d portray Marjorie Nugent as, after all, she did get murdered and there’s no excuse for that but, luckily, I think MacLaine did a good job showing a controlling woman but never going overboard and actually making us “hate” her. Although it’s told more from Bernie’s side, you feel for both of them as they’re clearly just two lonely people who happen to form an unusual friendship. It’s really a very sad but fascinating story (even more fascinating if you know the current outcome!). I think the movie handles the story well & I didn’t feel it was disrespectful – the comedic elements are mainly the “interviews” I discussed before.
Black & MacLaine are absolutely fantastic in two very understated roles and, along with Linklater, deserve all the credit for making a black comedy about a tragic real-life murder actually work as a film. I thought Bernie was very good but I often like movies that are slightly more unusual. I doubt I’d ever watch it again as it’s not exactly a “re-watcher” like something like Dazed & Confused (which I’ve watched loads of times) but is more like Boyhood in that it’s more of an “experience”. I’m glad to have finally seen it. It’s definitely not for everyone but, if it sounds like your type of film, definitely give it a watch! It’s well worth your time. Then make sure to look into the real story if you don’t know the current situation – I’m still a bit amazed by that myself…
My Rating: 7/10