Film Review: BERNIE

Directed by Richard Linklater
Written by Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth, based on his TEXAS MONTHLY article “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas
Starring: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey

PLOT: Bernie Tiede (Black) sidles into town as a newly minted mortician just in time to provide comfort to the quickly widowed, Marjorie Nugent (MacLaine). As a funeral director, he’s a knockout, knowing just when to put a hand on the shoulder of the bereaved. He’s also a good citizen, a benefactor to worthwhile causes, a beloved town figure— and all of this happens almost immediately. It’s hard to find someone who will say a critical word about him. Just what his relationship is with the Widow Nugent is difficult to describe. He is her go-fer, her rock, her escort. She provides him with the niceties of life he cannot quite afford. But suddenly, things go bad—really bad—for both parties.

This is a movie that is told in a large part through interviews with the real townspeople. Although they provide some amusing moments, it felt patronizing to me. And it really pointed out the wisdom of “show don’t tell.” Too much of this film played out offstage. We never really learned much about Bernie’s past—why he shows up in Carthage when he does. We never have any real insight into what Marjorie Nugent expected from him—why she was such a tyrant with the one person who cared for her. Their relationship obviously provided both with significant perks, but is this Bernie’s history? Have there been other women in other towns before he slunk into Carthage? I wanted to know this and would have preferred far fewer interviews and far more investigative journalism.

Maybe I missed the point of BERNIE. Certainly the audience around me enjoyed this film. Jack Black was the high point, doing a great job of creating a likable yet strange character. Matthew McConaghey aimed for the bleachers with each line. Shirley MacLaine’s script must have been written on an envelope. I can’t recommend this but I know I am in the minority here.

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