I didn’t know much about BERNIE other than what was written on the back of the DVD cover and that it was directed by Richard Linklater and had a great cast. Based on true events, I found the film quite charming and certainly entertaining.
Purporting a story “So unbelievable it must be true,” BERNIE recounts the true-crime story of mortician Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), who moves to the bucolic town of Carthage, TX to become their new assistant funeral director. Instantly loveable and genuine, he charms the entire town and has a special rapport, especially with the older residents who can’t get enough of him.
Eventually he sets his sights on affluent widow Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). Marjorie is biter and obtuse, but Bernie sees something in her and does his best to bring a smile to the permanently twisted scowl that adorns her face. They form a genuine bond but when she becomes overly possessive and jealous, he reaches his breaking point.
This is not a spoiler (It’s on the box cover): In a moment of madness, he shoots and kills Marjorie. Instantly regretting this, he tries to cover up the crime and continues to act as if she is still alive. Given that even her family hated her, it winds up being a lot easier than he could imagine.
BERNIE has a whimsical feel and is breezily directed in an almost documentary manner. It’s not laugh out loud funny, but it doesn’t need to be. The story is amusing due to the absurdity of the individuals involved and the situation that arises when the situation boils over.
Jack Black gives one of his best and understated performances as the effeminate but sincerely loving Bernie and you can see why he charmed the town’s folk. He might have had his faults, but at his core he was a caring and altruistic human being. MacLaine is also at her best as the acid tongued, curmudgeon and there is a feeling that she somehow deserved what she got.
Check out BERNIE if you get the chance. It’s a small film, but it makes a big impression.
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