Sunday, April 22, 2012

“Bernie” – Movie Review


This weekend, my movie class had a bonus screening of the new comedy “Bernie”, starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey.



After the funeral director of a small east Texas town develops a relationship with an elderly widow, he eventually winds up being arrested for her murder – but will this pillar of the community be found guilty?



In Carthage, Texas, Bernie Tiede (Black) is both admired and respected as their mortician despite his rather flamboyant behavior.     As a man known for drying the tears of recently-widowed elderly women, his baffling quirks are essentially ignored by other citizens because of his hard-working dedication and personable character.  It is for all of these reasons that Carthage is greatly confused as to why he would wind up befriending Marjorie Nugent (MacLaine), a cantankerous old biddy who is almost unanimously disliked by all who live there.  A sympathetic soul, Bernie sees her as lonely and much in need of a friend after working on the funeral of Marjorie’s late husband, so he sets out to show her attention during her period of mourning. 

Eventually, Marjorie warms up to him and much to everyone’s surprise, allows Bernie full access into her life.  Soon, they become close friends and she convinces him to reduce his hours at the funeral parlor so he can spend more time with her.  As a wealthy widow, Marjorie takes Bernie on elaborate excursions both around the country and around the world.   With Bernie assuming power of attorney over her estate, he gains a greater financial grip on Marjorie as she in turn gains a greater personal grip on Bernie’s life, mistreating him as if he was an errant employee or a lowly servant. 

As their relationship crumbles over the course of the next couple of years, Bernie quickly grows weary of her abuse and finally winds up murdering Marjorie by shooting her with her own rifle.  For a while, Bernie is able to convince everyone that Marjorie is either sick or in a nursing home, but people are growing increasingly suspicious.  Under the auspices of the sheriff, some of Marjorie’s family and business associates break into her home.  After a bit of snooping around, police who accompany them finally discover Marjorie’s body stuffed into the freezer stored in her garage.  Shortly thereafter, Bernie is arrested and he confesses to the crime – but despite this, will District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson (McConaughey) encounter difficulty getting a conviction due to the endearment Bernie has garnered from the Carthage citizenry?



As the movie’s tag line suggests, perhaps the most unbelievable thing about this story is that it is absolutely true.  Jack Black’s portrayal of Bernie is as funny as it is tragic, bordering on pathetic; Shirley MacLaine shines as a shrew that almost defines the term “justifiable homicide”.  Director Richard Linklater, who worked with Black on “The School Of Rock”, does a masterful job of laying out this tale in a serio-comic way, using documentary-style techniques, particularly by interspersing interviews of actual Carthage residents who purportedly knew either Bernie or Marjorie or both. 

Speaking of which, these interviews are arguably the best – and funniest – part of “Bernie”due to the plain-speaking, unfiltered comments and observations made by the interviewees.  Either intentionally or not, they are often both humorous and insightful about the main characters in this story.  As an example, one long-time Texas resident does an excellent and hilarious job of setting up the story by explaining the distinctions between the various regions of Texas with some snarky – albeit likely sincere – comments. 

Following the screening, the class discussed the movie; the majority of attendees appeared to like “Bernie” quite a good deal and believed it would be both a critical and commercial success when released.     Some of the students who said they were originally from the south said that while the way many of the townspeople interviewed sounded authentic, they weren’t sure if the film would do well in the south, particularly Texas.  Other questions raised were whether or not the comments made by the interviewees were improvised or scripted because sometimes, they sounded just too good to be true. 



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