The murder of the 81-year-old widowed millionaire Marjorie Nugent at the hands of her pseudo companion, the 39-year-old gay man named Bernie Tiede, was a case that began in 1996 when the act was committed and only made it to the Texas Monthly in '98. The news shocked all of Carthage, Texas. Members of the community (a few of whom are interviewed for this film, providing personal insight on the subject matter/character) held Bernie in high regards; he was a respectable guy who held a plethora of different occupations - just a few being assistant funeral director (his primary focus), known thespian, and regular church goer - although perhaps the most important of all was his status as a well-liked and pleasant man amongst his community.
So why he would choose to try and befriend Nugent after the death of her former husband was beyond comprehension. Marjorie could be considered Bernie's polar opposite. She was not well-liked or respected and was generally (and publically) known as the crabby old lady of the town. This did not stop Bernie from confronting her and eventually making his way into her heart; accompanying her everywhere and opening her mind to a lot of interesting opportunities. Bernie made her realize that in spite of her age, the world was still home to many pleasant surprises. After various vacations and a record number of public outings, the two were pretty much a couple.
But what, oh what, drove the sweet and innocent Bernie to shoot his good friend Marjorie four times in the back? According to the film adaptation of their dark and timely story, Richard Linklater's "Bernie", it was Marjorie's obsessive sense of attachment to the title character that finally set him off. Through the film, we witness Bernie feeling trapped after a few straight months of sheer heaven spent with this older woman (Bernie, although gay, seems to connect best with her generation rather than his own). She was possessive and absolutely hysteric; poor Bernie hardly had any time for himself. Which is why he finds himself holding the armadillo gun (as he calls it after an incident with the animal in Marjorie's garden) and firing, but not necessarily at will.
"Bernie" works best as a triple-performance piece as well as a character study, with Jack Black portraying the convicted small-town "criminal" who was sentenced to lifelong imprisonment for what he'd done. I've always liked Jack Black in his non-commercial performances because when required, he can be a dedicated and charming performer. As Bernie, he is absolutely irresistible; and although he's more or less got the old lady's blood on his hands, we're supposed to look at Bernie and sympathize for the fellow. This makes it one of Black's best performances yet. We understand his situation and find ourselves with the townsfolk on this one rather than the side of Carthage's district attorney, Danny Davidson (Matthew McConaughey).
Marjorie, meanwhile, is played by Shirley MacLaine; who is perfectly borderline psychotic to match the controlled and timid nature of Black's Bernie. Linklater, as always, displays great talent in directing all three of his main actors; but here expresses a little less control for the rest of the movie. Stylistically speaking, it's a bit uneven; it's not exactly compelling (especially in the later courtroom scenes, which are average) and of course, the interviews with the townsfolk constantly cutting in are there to provide the aforementioned "insight" as well as make the film feel a little less conventional, but all-in-all they weren't *quite* needed. However, it's a minor complaint and I cannot deny that Linklater won me over yet again with his latest. "Bernie" may not be, in my opinion, a great film; but it's an off-kilter and genuinely humorous cinematic slice of good old fashioned Southern hospitality. It'll be good to you only if you return the favor from the get-go.
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About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall (ryguy4738)
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more