Bernie, Bernie, Oh What Have You Done?

Bernie is a Richard Linklater film unlike any I’ve ever seen…by him or anyone else, for that matter.  I knew very little about the movie going in, which I think contributed to my enjoyment of and appreciation for the film.  It is a sharply droll film with an unexpectedly dark undercurrent so subtly crafted, before you know it, you are every bit as engrossed by and invested in the story as are the real-life townspeople “cast” in the documentary-style narrative.  It is wholly unique in its structure, as it is not quite a “mockumentary” (in the vein of, for instance, Christopher Guest films such as This Is Spinal Tap or Waiting For Guffman – it takes itself more seriously than those), yet precisely because it is based on a true story and so many real-life residents are used within the telling of that story, it often feels like a (fantastically riveting and entertaining) documentary.

Bernie is the remarkably true story of Bernie Tiede (played by the multi-talented and arguably undervalued Jack Black), a small-town Texas mortician whose preternaturally cheerful, caring and generous disposition makes him wildly popular with townsfolk across the board, young and old, male and female alike.  He eventually wins over even the crotchety wealthy widow Marjorie Nugent, played with delicious wickedness by Shirley MacLaine.  Bernie and Ms. Nugent form a curiously uncommon (and definition-defying) relationship that eventually tests even the perpetually patient and optimistic Bernie, causing him, in a moment of temporary insanity (or, one could argue, temporary sanity), to reach a breaking point that drives him to commit a crime you don’t see coming (unless you’re familiar with the true-life case, or have read or seen anything about the movie!)  This act precipitates a chain of events that has to be seen to be believed, culminating in a trial every bit as compelling and absorbing as any modern-day real-life crime drama. Continue reading

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