In the tiny, rural town of Carthage, TX, assistant funeral director Bernie Tiede was one of the town's most beloved residents. He taught Sunday school, sang in the church choir and was always willing to lend a helping hand. Everyone loved and appreciated Bernie, so it came as no surprise when he befriended MarjorieNugent, an affluent widow who was as well known for her sour attitude as her fortune. Bernie frequently traveled with Marjorie and even managed her banking affairs. Marjorie quickly became fully dependant on Bernie and his generosity and Bernie struggled to meet her increasing demands. Bernie continued to handle her affairs, and the townspeople went months without seeing Marjorie. The people of Carthage were shocked when it was reported that Marjorie Nugent had been dead for some time, and Bernie Tiede was being charged with the murder.
Genres:Comedy, Crime Running Time:1 hour 44 minutes Release Date:April 27, 2012 MPAA Rating:PG-13 (for some violent images and brief strong language) Distributor:Millennium Entertainment
Cast And Credits
Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey
Richard Linklater, Ginger Sledge
Bernie,â€ Richard Linklaterâ€™s gaudily vibrant, at times morbidly funny true-crime story, takes place in the East Texas town of Carthage, which, at the time when sweet Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) murdered sour Mrs. Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), had a population of 6,500. To judge from the movie and the Texas Monthly article that inspired it, nearly everyone in Carthage loved Bernie, including the minister who after the shooting preached that Bernie â€œneeds to be with God, and he needs to know that we are with him.â€ The preacher didnâ€™t say that Bernie needed to be in heaven to be with God. In the movie, at least, he seems to suggest that Carthage would do just fine.
Given the townâ€™s Bernie boosters, itâ€™s no wonder. â€œBernieâ€ grew out of a corrosively comic 1998 article by Skip Hollandsworth that jumps with memorable Carthage facts and flavor: a store called Boot Scootinâ€™ Western Wear; a diner sign reading, â€œYou Kill It, Iâ€™ll Cook Itâ€; and Cadillacs veering off the road when the wealthy old widows who drive them miss the brakes. This is where Bernie blossomed and would still be in bloom if some had their way. Push past the local color, though, as Mr. Linklater does, and this starts to look like what it was: a sordid, bleak tale about two lonely people drawn to each other like colliding planets.
Working from his and Mr. Hollandsworthâ€™s script, Mr. Linklater doesnâ€™t lead with the bummer side of the story but instead sets a broad, slightly uncomfortable comic tone that makes it difficult â€” intentionally, I think â€” to know if youâ€™re meant to be laughing or recoiling. (Both are right.) Mr. Black can be an almost insistently demanding presence, and the moment he cuts loose in the movie, belting out a gospel song as if itâ€™s a show tune, and then the reverse, he pulls you in hard. So itâ€™s telling that Mr. Linklater opens the movie with Bernie showing mortuary students how to prettify a corpse. As he stands before his audience, he registers as both a director and performer, and a bit like a happy Frankenstein reanimating the dead.
The relationship between Bernie and Mrs. Nugent was unlikely, but almost everything seems improbable about this bouncy child-man. The story slides into place when Bernie motors into Carthage for the first time, checking messages on his Jesus-adorned phone. Equipped with a mortuary degree, a country smile and a delicate, straight-back walk that suggests a prancing pony, he lands a job at a funeral home. Because heâ€™s equally attentive to the living and the dead, he soon becomes an indispensable member of the community, whether singing in church or comforting the grieving. The widows take a special liking to him as he solicitously escorts them from their husbandsâ€™ graves like a gentleman caller, holding onto them in case they stumble.
One day he takes the arm of one of the richest women in town, the newly widowed Marjorie Nugent. She doesnâ€™t stumble â€” not at first anyway. She scowls at him when he later brings her sympathy flowers, and grimaces when he shows up with a gift basket. Ms. MacLaine, giving her face a strenuous, diverting workout, squares her jaw and tightly squinches her face, as if she were setting a spring trap and waiting for someone to take the bait. She looks battle ready, but thereâ€™s something hunted about Mrs. Nugent too, and both the actress and her director make certain you see the cracks in her defense and the woman â€” alone and lonely â€” that Bernie sees.
The plot thickens ickily as Bernie and Mrs. Nugent become friendlier, a honeymoon period that Mr. Linklater, working with the cinematographer Dick Pope and the editor Sandra Adair, gives bright pop momentum. Bernie and Mrs. Nugent start going everywhere and doing everything together. He nudges the widow out of her solitary confinement so that she begins to enjoy what wealth brings, including Bernieâ€™s attentions. There are lavish trips abroad, nights out and lots of nights in, as well as side-by-side spa massages. But as Bernie opens her world, Mrs. Nugent â€” out of fear, spite, pathology or plain meanness â€” tries to shrink his until heâ€™s in her pocket. He doesnâ€™t fit. It isnâ€™t long before a district attorney, Danny Buck (Matthew McConaughey, showboating amusingly), has a case.
Throughout, Mr. Linklater inserts intertitles that announce his thematic categories (â€œWas Bernie Gay?â€) and brief interviews (scripted and not) with Bernie boosters, some played by actual townspeople. Theyâ€™re textual annotations of a particularly queasy kind, and the interviews jump off the screen because these characters let it humorously hang out â€” and, man, do they love Bernie. These are the town gossips as Greek chorus, yet while theyâ€™re funny, sort of, thereâ€™s also something oppressive about these busybodies. They all have a lot to say, but in real life when the bad times came, and two of their own began flailing, these ostensibly comic, colorful types were as mute as the stuffed animals that seem to loom from every Carthage wall and make this funny Texas town look like one big taxidermy exhibit.