Bernie (Richard Linklater, 2011) 3.5/4
Who is Bernie? Richard Linklater’s semi-mockumentary attempts to answer that question while showcasing Jack Black’s greatest performance. The film is based on a 1998 Texas Monthly magazine article titled, “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas”. The article chronicles the 1996 murder of 81-year-old millionaire Marjorie Nugent by her 39-year-old, companion, Bernhardt “Bernie” Tiede. Jack Black plays Bernie, a polite, courteous, and heartwarming funeral director. Bernie took his profession extremely seriously and liked to look after the widows a few days after the funeral for their spouse. When Marjorie Nugent’s husband dies, Bernie takes it upon himself to look after her and make sure she is doing all right. The unfortunate thing is that Mrs. Nugent is mean, real mean. She treats Bernie like dirt until finally letting him in and the two create a beautiful relationship together. They go on vacations around the world and Bernie spends her money on whatever he pleases. After a while, Mrs. Nugent becomes obsessive and controlling over Bernie, making him do anything she asks. After months of this going on, Bernie snaps and murders Mrs. Nugent with a BB Gun. What happens after is the trial to determine whether or not Bernie is guilty.
The film begins with questions appearing on the screen followed by testimonials by local people who knew Bernie. I’m not sure if these people were real people or actors but damn, they were hilarious. The documentary part of the film breaks up the story and adds the perfect amount of commentary. It also works as a way to let the audience know more about Bernie that wouldn’t be very apparent in the normal storyline. The film tries to answer questions such as, “Was Bernie just trying to get Mrs. Nugent’s Money?” or “Was Bernie Gay?” The locals interviewed attempt to answer these questions but end up defending Bernie on any occasion. The way that Black brings across the character fully represents the testimonials given by the locals; Bernie truly was an angel.
The only person not convinced that Bernie was innocent and a kind person was Danny Buck Davidson (Matthew McConaughey). Davidson arrests Bernie after the murder and does anything in his power to put him behind bars. I would like to take this time to say that Matthew McConaughey is an extremely underrated actor and seems to have gotten a bad reputation over the years because of his romcoms. I think he’s really great and this year he’s brought out two brilliant performances, the other being in Magic Mike. He fit the part perfectly and always brings fun to his films.
Bernie is a sad story, but feels heartwarming and comedic throughout. Jack Black found his perfect character and delivered his greatest performance. Bernie has a round body type, perfectly combed hair, a kick in his step, and of course, a beautiful singing voice; all of these attributes are why Black was the perfect choice. There is nothing shocking in the film and honestly, I’ve told you the entire plot, but Bernie is a joy to watch and Linklater brings his charm into the film. This charm of course is his perfection of capturing human emotion and dialogue on screen. All of Linklater’s films are different from Bernie, but they are happy while pulling at your heartstrings throughout. Bernie is sometimes hard to believe because honestly, how can anyone be so nice? But that is where the magic happens, the laugher of a comedy with the shock of a drama.