Indie Ogden Film Review: Bernie
Bernie is a 2012 movie starring Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, and Shirley MacLaine, directed by Richard Linklater.
Set in a small town in east Texas, Carthage (“where the South begins”), Bernie follows the real life story of Bernhardt Tiede II (played by Black). Bernhardt arrives in Carthage to be an assistant funeral director at the local home, and his skill and expertise at arranging incredibly thoughtful and lovely services for the town’s deceased quickly earns him local popularity. Bernhardt is a sweet man, and it becomes nearly impossible not to like him.
After the death of her husband, Bernie takes a special interest in Marjorie Nugent (played by MacLaine). Nugent is despised throughout the entire community, mostly for just being unkind and rude. This doesn’t deter Bernie from visiting her (as he does all the widows whose husbands he’s laid to rest), and they eventually become close. Nugent begins taking Bernie on vacations, and trusting her affairs to him. Their relationship becomes strained, however, as Nugent grows more and more possessive. Bernie reaches a point where he can’t take it, and in a heated moment shoots her four times in the back.
Immediately remorseful for what he’d done, he ends up putting her in the freezer and carries on in town as if nothing happened. Nugent’s disappearance does little to upset the town, and Bernie continues to cover it up by saying her inability to see people is due to recent health concerns. This continues for several months, and in the meantime Bernie gives some of Nugent’s sizable wealth to local community members in need (even building on an addition to the Methodist church he attended).
Nugent’s death is eventually discovered after her financial advisor grows suspicious, and Bernie is arrested. He admits to the whole crime, on his own volition, and the local district attorney Danny Buck (played by McConaughey) sets forth to charge him with first degree murder. As soon as the town hears about this, they all rally behind Bernie. No one disagrees with his guilt, but because of their strong love for Bernie (and general hatred of Nugent) keep pushing Buck to go light on Bernie’s case. Buck ends up getting the trial moved to another town in the hopes of getting a fair trial, and Bernie is eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
The acting in the film is quite well done. Black steps slightly out of his usual characters, as Bernie is not someone whose actions are exaggerated or over the top. Black does, however, manage to show off the talent of his musical alter-ego through Bernie’s love for singing. McConaughey does an excellent job playing Danny Buck. And honestly, who doesn’t love a good southern accent coming from either of these men?
Throughout the film we’re treated to actual reactions from Carthage locals to the plots of the events, which adds immensely to the film. While the subject of the movie is the murder of an elderly woman, there are a large number of amusing parts and the general tone of the film chooses to reflect that of Bernie’s good character and the absurdity of the whole situation.
All in all, Bernie makes a wonderful, light summer compliment to the two other movies currently screening at Art House Cinema 502 we reviewed last week: the romantic The Well Digger’s Daughter and the thoughtful Monsieur Lazhar.