Bernie (2011)

Bernie (2011)
  • Time: 104 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Crime | Drama
  • Director: Richard Linklater
  • Cast: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey


In this true story 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 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.


  • Jack Black gives a memorable performance of a beloved assistant funeral director Bernie Tiede from Carthage, Texas. Based on a true story, Bernie becomes a lifeline and companion to a wealthy sour widow Marjorie Nugent played by Shirley MacLaine. Marjorie was not an easy person but she had been estranged by her own son and grandchildren. With a wealthy estate, Marjorie was demanding. At first, Bernie befriended the lonely widow offering flowers and body wash. Bernie had a knack with people. Marjorie slowly became his platonic companion even though she was difficult. When she died, it took 9 months before they found her. What makes this film different are the local gossips played by East Texas residents. Except for the major roles, the characters of townspeople made it seem more real like a TV movie. It’s not a bad but actually entertaining to see real people too in the movie!

  • Independent American director Richard Linklater collaborates with actor Jack Black again in this low-key drama-comedy about a character named Bernie. Black, who last worked with Linklater in the hit The School of Rock (2003), plays the title character Bernie, a charming guy who walks with an effeminate style, and who above all else, has an incredible desire to help everyone in his community, be it a family in need, or a snobbish old lady.

    Speaking of which, Marjorie Nugent is probably the most snobbish of old ladies that you will see on the screen this year. Played by the legendary Shirley MacLaine (The Apartment, 1960; Terms of Endearment, 1983), Marjorie drives Bernie to madness when she takes advantage of his kindness one mile too far.

    Set in Texas in the town of Carthage, Linklater embraces the socio-cultural climate of the locale not by capturing beautiful imagery, but through the numerous interactions with its colourful people. In an unorthodox way of presenting his film, Linklater intercuts documentary interviews of real Carthage folks as they recall how they were touched by Bernie’s grace, with a reel take on Bernie the person as played by Black.

    The end result is simply a film that is impossible to define. The unconventional narrative style and structure give Bernie a pacing that is more meandering than focused, but Linklater manages to keep things in check with Black’s stunning performance acting as the anchor for the entire film.

    Black, who mostly flatters to deceive, will convince his critics of his acting ability in Bernie. Such is his charm and persuasiveness that it would take a person with a wooden heart to not like him. The problem comes when his character kills Marjorie (this is not a spoiler!) midway into the film. Is he guilty or not? Can such an angel commit a devilish crime?

    Bernie is not so much a character or psychological study on morality, but a tribute to a person who (unfortunately) has to face the law, his fate under the scrutiny of another town’s jury, despite being an affectionately nice guy for his entire life. Can one seemingly justified moment of madness define a person?

    Bernie will resonate more with the artsy-fartsy crowd, though it must be said that Black will pull a number of mainstream viewers into the theatres to catch this. Linklater’s film is out of the ordinary, but it is never extraordinary. It is well-directed in an understated manner, and while not always consistently engaging, it feels like something that might be important to watch. After all it is based on a true story.

    Verdict: Impossible to define, Linklater does something out of the ordinary, though never extraordinary, in this low-key drama-comedy.

    GRADE: B

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