the lastest film from richard linklater (slacker, dazed and confused, before sunrise, waking life, a scanner darkly) is called bernie. it stars jack black who plays bernie tiede. bernie is an assistant funeral director in carthage, texas who is energetic, effeminate, endearing and quite good at his job.
he meets marjorie nugent (shirley maclaine) after he attends to her husbands funeral. she’s portrayed as sullen and mean, even to bernie. but somehow, he wears her down and they begin to spend time with each other. they travel. she is hard on bernie, as she seems to be on everyone she comes in contact with, but he stays a part of her life nonetheless. eventually they are insperable.
bernie tries to maintain his life – working at the funeral home, taking part in various civic activities, and participating in musical theater – but marjorie’s domineering nature begins to wear on him. after a particular tongue lashing, he shoots her in the back.
he prays to god and then stuffs her in a freezer. over the next 9 months he lies as much as he can about where marjorie is and spends and gives away as much of her sizable fortune as is possible.
eventually he is found out. pictured below are both couples – cinematic and real life:
jack black walks a tightrope through this whole film. his character was secretly gay but in the movie he gives little away. his character bellows hymns at various services all the while marjorie’s body is tucked away in a freezer. he saves souls and gives pep talks to the boys’ baseball team. he hands out scholarships and jungle gyms.
i love this film a lot and for many reasons. i love jack black’s restrained performance. i liked shirley maclaine’s subdued nastiness, too. even matthew mcconaughey is entertaining as the prosecutor in a role that allows him to be self serious and funny at the same time. but the real credit goes to writer/director richard linklater.
linklater makes charming use of actual townspeople for interview and casting choices. interstitial matieral is all interviews with the actual folks involved, for the most part. it’s a great technique and one i’ve always wished was employed more with ‘true’ stories on film.
as with most any film based on real events, this gem deviates from the truth in several ways. in real life, after bernie’s arrest, there were tapes of him found having sex with men. in real life, he didn’t just give away money to the community and the poor – he passed money and things around to his gay lovers, too. in real life, marjorie wasn’t nearly as alienated from her family as the film lets on and bernie may have been a bit more nefarious than the movie allows – but it is still a great story. and it makes for a great film.
this is a perfect example of a movie a lot of people would really love if only more people knew about it and would turn out to see it.
the theater i saw this in today had about 15 people in it. that’s a real shame.
this is a funny, dark, quirky movie with a real pulse to it and a charm that only a small town can have, and the people who populate it are honest and darling.