What happens when a small town funeral director commits a crime of murder is the plot of Bernie, Richard Linklater’s new film based on a true story. Although it sounds more like a crime drama, the movie is actually presented as somewhat of an amusing yarn, fostered by its iconic cast of Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey.
Shirley MacLaine, Jack Black
In the small town of Carthage, Texas life is pretty predictable. People go to church, try to help each other and gossip. Crime is low, and do-gooders are embraced. When Bernie Tiede (Black) shows up looking for a job at the local funeral home, he’s hired. He’s so efficient he works his way up to being funeral director.
Bernie is as charismatic in the community as he is on his job as he proves by singing and often preaching at the local church. When Marjorie Nugent becomes a widow and sole owner of a fortune, things in Carthage tilt toward the obscure. Her own children are written out of her will and she treats them harshly. The woman who barely leaves her house becomes the topic of speculation at home sewing circles and in the barber shop.
It’s the kind and sensitive Bernie who manages to worm his way into Marjorie’s world and eventually becomes her everything – personal shopper, financial advisor, travel companion. She soon relies on Bernie so much he can’t even take a breath outside of her presence.
Soon it becomes apparent that Marjorie hasn’t been seen in a long time. Bernie reveals she’s been put in rest home in another city. But Carthage District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson has another opinion. Could Bernie have killed Marjorie for her money?
Bernie is a funny, tongue in cheek film that won’t let you stop watching because of its sensational cast. Fans of Jack Black know his talent is unharnessed. From School of Rock and The Big Year to King Kong and Shallow Hal he delivers juicy and interesting characters every time.
Shirley MacLaine’s role as Marjorie is not one we normally see with MacLaine who is usually outrageously funny. Marjorie is a dour, self-centered and obsessed woman but even in that role MacLaine excels with just a smidgen of humor beneath every action she performs. Danny Buck Davidson is an over the top court-TV-like attorney, and McConaughey nails every one of those character arcs in his performance.
The script by Richard Linklater & Skip Hollandsworth is brilliant and direction by Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Me and Orson Welles) is everything his fans expect. Bernie will keep moviegoers laughing long after they leave the theatre.
Photo Credits: Millennium Entertainment