10 Apr



Director: Richard Linklater

Writers: Skip Hollandsworth, Richard Linklater

Stars: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey

Motion Picture Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 104 minutes


Who is Bernie Tiede? That’s the key question to this mockumentary style film by Richard Linklater. He appears in Carthage, East Texas and walks into a job as assistant mortician. Thereafter he walks into the lives of almost all of the 7,000 townspeople leaving the vast majority with smiles on their faces. As well as being skilled at making up the recently deceased, Bernie sings in the church choir, directs the local theatre group, starts an arts festival and organizes a pageant for senior citizens. He is cheery, enthusiastic and great with people, especially the little old ladies. Having helped to arrange their husbands’ funerals Bernie likes to keep a caring eye on the widows.

Bernie is a strange little man and this is a strange little film. The fact that it is a true story makes it doubly so. Linklater read an article in a Texan newspaper about the real Bernie and immediately saw it as a movie. Having worked on the script with the journalist, he then made a perfect decision and cast Jack Black in the lead role. Black’s portrayal of Bernie is a thing of weird beauty. Black is exceptional and his acting blows away any preconceptions that you might have about him. He completely embodies this friendly mortician; he walks, talks, consoles, organizes, sings, and dances and throughout the film he never breaks character.

The widow who Bernie focuses on is called Marjorie Nugent and is played acidly by Shirley MacLaine. She is a mean old lady and none too popular in Carthage. Bernie believes that there is good in everyone and he slowly ingratiates himself with the wealthy widow and gets her to open up more to the community. Together they go on overseas trips and soon enough Bernie is giving Marjorie financial advice and practically moving in. Their relationship is odd. It’s not sexual and it’s not of a mother / son dynamic. They are mismatched friends that come to rely on each other, but with Marjorie, and her money, dominating.

Bernie and Marjorie don’t have a happy ending. She ends up with 4 bullet holes in her back and he ends up facing a jury. The final act of the film deals with the court case that is a result of Marjorie’s death. The local prosecutor, played well by Matthew McConaughey, puts Bernie on trial and stirs up a hornet’s nest in East Texas. What is justified homicide if the victim was so damn mean? Is a valid defence the fact that the accused is so damn nice? Bernie is strangely gracious through all of it and even I struggled with my verdict. That’s the beauty of the film. You don’t really know Bernie Tiede so passing judgement on his lifestyle, relationships and misdemeanours is not easy.

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