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72% Liked It
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Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey, Brady Coleman, Richard Robichaux

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 ... read more read lend a helping hand. Everyone loved and appreciated Bernie, so it came as no surprise when he befriended Marjorie Nugent, 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 dependent 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. -- (C) Official Site

Id: 11163217

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Recent Reviews

  • November 11, 2013
    It's nice to see Richard Linklater and Jack Black reunited once more. I think Richard Linklater brings the best out in him as although he's on full on performance mode, it's toned down and isn't Jack Black. It's an odd little true story that is original and a little quirky. It wa... read mores only when I realised that the talking head sequences were real that I appreciated how special this film really was. I thought the cast was made up of a load of amateur dramatic actors, I had no clue they were the people who were there at the time. It's not anything initially but as soon as you warm to it it is rewarding enough. Good characters make a good story and there are plenty of good characters to choose from here.
  • November 1, 2013
    True crime stories have a tendency to be sensationalistic. Many films based on high-profile murders, kidnappings or other such cases go out of their way to be shocking or outré, and for every one or two that hit the mark, you get a dozen that come off as cheap, exploitative or ju... read morest plain ineffective. Psycho wasn't scary because the real-life story of Ed Gene was scary: it was scary because Alfred Hitchcock worked hard to build up a creepy atmosphere in which the famous killings could take place.

    Bernie arrives into this often histrionic little sub-genre much like its main character: it's a polite, orderly, cheery soul who does things rather differently. Reuniting Jack Black with director Richard Linklater, ten years after they collaborated on School of Rock, it is a surprisingly naturalistic blend of comedy and docudrama which raises several interesting moral questions. While it doesn't quite do enough to enter the pantheon of truly great dark comedies, it is nonetheless a very fine and memorable piece of work.

    Throughout his long and variegated career, Linklater has had a knack for two things: creating believable and naturalistic characters, and then keeping said characters at the forefront. This is true of whatever genre he's working in, whether romance (the Before trilogy), sci-fi (A Scanner Darkly), musical comedy (School of Rock) or historical drama (Me and Orson Welles). His approach is often akin to documentary, in that he allows characters to speak and develop for themselves; you never get the sense of his camera pushing or telling people to go and do things a certain way.

    For a film which is to all intents and purposes a comedy about death, Bernie is surprisingly gentle in both pace and attitude. Many black comedies are stylistically and narratively aggressive: the likes of Heathers and Kind Hearts and Coronets push their characters at you, surrounding them with dark tones and shadows to compliment their acid tongues and cruel intentions. Bernie, on the other hand, is a film which puts you with its characters in fairly inviting surroundings. Even the scenes in the funeral home are pleasantly lit, with an emphasis on achieving a naturalistic tone rather than setting up a given joke.

    Being a comedy about death, which is slow-burning in nature and more focussed on character than on plot, the natural point of comparison would be Harold and Maude. Both films revolve around a romantic relationship with a big age gap, whose lovers are brought together by their experience of funerals. And with both couples, the relationship is not exactly orthodox, nor is it the toast of the town; the residents of Carthage are perplexed why someone as nice as Bernie would want to spend any time with someone as spiteful as Marjorie.

    But in fact, the film is much to closer to another Hal Ashby work, Being There. Not only do both films feature Shirley MacLaine, but Bernie Tiede has several character traits which are very similar to that of Chance, played brilliantly by Peter Sellers. Both characters have an angelic innocence to them, a childlike quality which makes them instantly appealing or intriguing as characters. And both, more importantly, are seemly impossible to dislike. They make a huge difference in people's lives, improving their sense of well-being and leaving lasting memories. The only marked difference between them, aside from Bernie's eventual criminality, is that he is more conscious of his good will, while Chance has little to no idea of the impact that he is having.

    The film also draws to a certain extent on the work of Alexander Payne. Both he and Linklater (at least in this film) try to strike a balance between observing human behaviour in an empathetic manner and a dry, dark and often spiky sense of humour. This film is not quite as successful in this regard as the likes of Sideways or About Schmidt, nor is it as touching or as weighty as Being There. But it's still very touching in its own way, and there is much to like about both the story and the way in which is told.

    Chief amongst the film's assets is the central performance of Jack Black. What's extraordinary about it is how he manages to play the part so sweetly without it ever feeling fake or forced. Comedians often base their performances and routines on big, broadly comedic gestures, which can often mean that they don't come across as genuine when trying to act dramatically. But Black, having also worked with Stephen Frears and Peter Jackson, knows when and how to be serious, and he does it very well.

    The other great asset of Black's performance is its understatement. When doing press for King Kong, he remarked that the trick to good screen acting was "moving the eyes rather than the eyebrows", a trick that pays dividends here. Black is a larger-than-life character, which works well in his comedic performances, but here he turns everything right down to make Bernie a very still, sweet and likeable man. He is called upon to sing on several occasions, and you would think that in those moments Linklater would indulge him, given his work on School of Rock. But even then he dials it back, resisting the urge to go off on a Tenacious D-style tangent.

    Black is flanked on either side by two other good performances which round out the central cast. Shirley MacLaine is very well-cast, bringing a lot of charisma to an unlikeable role and treating those around her with as much contempt and disdain as Siân Phillips' Livia in I, Claudius. Matthew McConnaughey continues his streak of career-resurging nasty guys, turning in an appealingly warped performance as the Sheriff bringing Bernie to justice. Together these two form the malignant forces of spite and suspicion which eventually cause Bernie to snap and commit his terrible crime.

    At the heart of Bernie is an interesting moral dilemma. According to the law Bernie is guilty: he confessed to the crime and all the evidence supports this verdict. Yet Bernie was so enamoured to the people of Carthage, achieving so much practical and moral good, that punishing him seems somewhat unjust even when we know all the facts. The film treads close to the territory of The Green Mile or A Man For All Seasons, asking us to condemn someone in the face of all the good they have wrought. It makes us question the power and purpose of the law, seeing it as both a worthy standard to uphold and something that can be twisted to all manner of personal whims.

    This desire of Linklater's to question the boundaries of morality both situate Bernie as a black comedy and compliment the docudrama feel. Like many of the classic Ealing comedies, particularly Kind Hearts and Coronets, the film invites us to conflate notions of justice and morality, asking us if not to embrace the crimes than excuse them as serving some kind of greater or higher purpose. By structuring the film around the testimonies of local residents, the film builds up a more compelling portrait of the man. Rather than being simply told what Bernie did, it is demonstrated to us and we come to accept it more readily.

    There are a couple of shortcomings with Bernie which prevent it from being elevated to the pantheon of truly great black comedies. The story is ultimately quite slight, not going into as much depth as it could have or bringing out deeper thematic implications of Bernie's actions, as happened in Being There. Moreover, the film is not quite as funny as it could have been. Not every comedy has to produce hysterical levels of laughter, with many of the examples I've quoted here being dry and slow-burning. But a lot of the time the desire to laugh must take a back seat to Bernie's backstory, with the talking heads cutting in over potentially comic situations.

    Bernie is a very good, heart-warming little film which charms its way into your hearts and lingers there for some time afterwards. Black's fantastic central performance, together with those of his two main co-stars, are well-complimented by Linklater's soft, steady head and abiding sense of empathy for his characters. It's not perfect by any means, but just like its main character it will leave a lasting impression.
  • June 4, 2013
    This film from Richard Linklater is yet another look at small town life and the seedy underbelly of said small town. It looks at the story of the real life murder of Marjorie Nugent by her friend and partner Bernie Tiede. Using talking head interviews with real life residents of ... read moreCarthage, Texas as well as actors, the film takes on a documentary style while also being something of a bio-pic. This inclusion of the residents of the town is one of the best aspects of the film and makes it tirelessly unique as well as entertaining. It's not even these engaging interviews that are the best thing about this film. The performances from the leads are, without hyperbole, some of the best of their respective careers. I have loved watching Matthew McConaughey prove himself in indie films for the past several years, and his performance in this film may be his most understated performance yet. He plays the prosecution in Bernie's case, where he is both the small town lawyer that everyone knows and yet the less than congenial shark that looks to put him away. Shirley Maclaine as the contentious and unforgiving benefactress Marjorie Nugent, portrayed as being very cold and calculating in Bernie's interest. In the beginning of the film, when she meets the lead character, you think the film is going to be about the power of love and changing for the better, or even about a young man taking advantage of a woman who is old and frail. Maclaine plays Marjorie as a fearless and conniving woman who doesn't understand the meaning of "no." Jack Black, beyond a doubt, is the driving force of this film, and gives a performance that is so grounded in Southern sensibility and yet irony. He actually met with the real Bernie Tiede, and his dedication to researching the role pays off in a big way. There is no one else who could have pulled off this role better. The film is straight forward and entertaining, but doesn't grip you or surprise at any time, and that's where most of the criticism comes from for this film. It's about a murder and yet it's so happy go lucky and sweet tempered the entire way through, though it needs to be in order to understand why the trial was moved in the first place. It does shift in tone at times but it's not a gimmicky film at all, and creates characters that really say something rather than have personality quirks.
  • May 1, 2013
  • April 13, 2013
    Has its moments, but mostly I was bored or distracted watching this one. Not sure why. Performances all good. Liked the small town USA setting. Maybe my mood at the time? Really did think I would enjoy this more than I did. Maybe it was the "documentary" style that distracted me.... read more Very good acting from Shirley MacLaine and Jack Black.
  • February 9, 2013
    Question: Are you a fan of Jack Black? If so, you might want to check out Bernie. It came out last year. Many probably missed the theatrical release because it did not stay out for very long. What a pity since I think this may be Jack Black's best performance to date.

    Jack Bla... read moreck is entertaining in everything he does: Tenacious D, his comedic roles and even his dramatic roles which there aren't many. He is a true original and has talent in abundance, but many only acquaint him with the sidekick comedic portrayals when his career started to take off.

    We may all know him best as the short, over-weight Shallow Hal, the bombastic monk Nacho Libre, or the one-track-mind guitar player in The School of Rock once he started obtaining lead roles. His stint in King Kong was the closest to his most dramatic reach but the overall film was a mess that his performance was muddled and soon forgotten. However, I promise that you have never seen Jack Black quite this way as he portrays real-life Bernie Tiede.

    The same director of Slacker, The School of Rock, Dazed and Confused, and Before Sunrise, Richard Linklater delved into this true tale from a different perspective - which is something he appears to do with all his films. His style of directing is so diverse that it's hard to pinpoint a "type" per se; except that he appears to tell stories about ordinary people in unique situations that other storytellers might not want to tackle.

    Bernie is just such a story and was perfect for Linklater's filmmaker abilities. He even told this one differently than his past films with an almost documentary feel with interviews of (real) townspeople intermixed throughout the entire film. The story is based on a newspaper article from Texas that came out a few years back about a man, an assistant funeral director, who was probably the most respected man in town - with good reason - but who is arrested because of an unspeakable act. No one in the town wants to believe it except for the DA Danny Buck, played by Matthew McConaughy.

    Jack Black's performance was stellar. Bernie was a very kind man; an overly generous person whose sole purpose in life was to make sure people felt comforted when bereaved or not alone when others may have stopped caring. Bernie was liked by all, and by Jack Black's portrayal, you can see why.

    Bernie's kindness, however, was pushed to the edge and beyond when he befriended a mean, lonely widow played by Shirley MacClaine. Watching Jack Black play this relatively non-comedic character (Bernie is a black comedy) did take a few minutes to get used to. There was always that cusp of whether to laugh or not, but Linklater and Black kept it at a good balance without cheapening the quality of the character or going too cliché.

    As you witness this man and what he is trying to do with his life, you are simply swept away by the performance. You will forget that he was the stoner brother of Colin Hanks, a Neil Diamond impersonator trying to save his friend or the goof-ball, record-store snob. Well done, Jack Black.

    Review: 8 out of 10
  • December 19, 2012
    Before I saw this movie, I knew that Jack Black was a talented performer. Now that I've seen this, I can tell you that he really can act, not just as an exaggerated version of his real self, but truly act act, like genuine thespians do. I really hope he gets awards recognition fo... read morer this, because he really deserves it.

    Black stars in this darkly comedic docudrama based on the real life story of Bernie Tiede- a very effeminate assistant funeral director in the small east Texas town of Carthage, who has the most sunny disposition ever. He is a highly regarded model citizen known for warming even the coldest of hearts. And that's exactly what happens when he befriends Marjorie Nugent- a recently widowed wealthy lady who has a reputation for being very cold, mean, and unpopular in town. Bernie and Marjorie become extremely close, but things turn real sour when, fed up with Marjorie's neediness and badgering, Bernie kills her, hides the body in a freezer, then proceeds to keep up the illusion she's still alive. He also taps into her fortune, but uses the money to help out the community instead of for personal gain.

    The film is peppered with 'talking head' - style interview moments conducted with actual residents from Carthage who knew the real Bernie and Marjorie, and I thought this was a neat way to portray things. The insights provided by the people make for a great juxtaposition with the performances by the actors, and it's amazing to see how well the fictional portrayals match up with the descriptions of the real life people.

    What might be best of all is how the film doesn't really take a stance on how you should feel about these people. Linklater just presents things and let's it take off on its own from there. It's also a great strength that the performances of these characters come off as 3-dimensional and developed instead of caricatures, which would have been easy to do, especially in Black's case since Bernie has so many quirks. It does start off as one-note, but does eventually grow into something quite substantial.

    This is a strong film, but not perfect. For one, the balance in tone is a litle wavering at times, but to be fair, I expected that, given the nature of the story. Also, while the film is funny (mostly pitch black), it's not quite as humorous as Linklater probably thinks it is. It also seems like the film is rather directionless, or maybe purposeless at times, but not enough to completely derail the production.

    While I know that this isn't going to be a film for everyone, I do recommend it, if only for the performances by Black (his career best so far), Shirley MacLaine (mostly relying on facial expressions and body language, but still great), and Matthew McConaughey as the determined local prosecutor iffy about Bernie, refusing to believe he really is as nice as he seems.
  • November 18, 2012
    "I've read numerous of times that Bernie is a film your either going to love or hate. I happen to be in the middle. Jack Black gives out one of his best performances I have seen in a long time. I love Shirley MacLaine. She does well in this role. The story is solid. I even... read more thought bringing in the towns people to help tell the story really was smart. The only problem for me was I just wasn't very interested in the story. Still it has great performances and can be funny at times. Still not something I would watch again."
  • fb100000145236770
    November 17, 2012
    "Bernie" is an oddball movie that gives the best performance of Jack Blacks career. This isn't his best movie, but in terms of what he's done as an actor, this is his best work. Black is usually hilarious and over the top, but here he is a little reserved, weird, and a character ... read morecompletely different than Jack Black. He plays the title character Bernie who is an assistant funeral director in a tiny Texas town. Everyone loves him, and he loves everyone else. Bernie befriends a widow(Shirley MacLaine) who everyone in the town hates, but Bernie tries to comfort her and they become best friends, and then things get bad. I don't really want to say much more because it would spoil the movie, but it's based on a true story, and it's a weird story at that. Other than Black, Matthew McConaughey plays the towns District Attorney, and he does a great job also. He is almost unrecognizable. It's amazing to see 2 very well known actors transform in the way they do. This movie isn't going to be for everyone. But, if you like quirky independent dramedies, then you should give this a shot. I think Black will get a Spirit and Golden Globe nomination for this. If he doesn't, that's a shame, because he is great.
  • November 17, 2012
    This is how I've always pictured Texas, outrageous and slightly effeminate.

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