Bernie (2011)

Director: Richard Linklater

Starring: Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, Shirley MacLaine

A black comedy featuring the infamous Jack Black as the charismatic and effeminate Bernie Tiede, Bernie was a nice change of pace of the movies that we typically see from the leading actor. Black still does all of those things that make us kind of uncomfortable (singing, dancing, just being Jack Black in general), but he incorporates them into the movie into a different way that we’ve seen. Bernie is not the typical role we see from Black and he portrays him in a way that makes us love the guy just as much as the people in the movie do.

Plot: Bernie Tiede is an assistant funeral director in a small town in Texas. He quickly befriends everyone that he comes into contact with because of his charming and friendly personality. Bernie lives to serve others and make their lives easier. It’s only when he meets and befriends a wealthy widow, Marjorie (MacLane), that he meets a bump in the road. Marjorie is the least liked person in their small town and is seen as almost evil as she is never nice to anyone ever. How this relationship with Marjorie affects Bernie is very drastic, as Bernie ends up shooting and killing her. State Attorney Danny Buck (McConaughey) then has to try to get Bernie convicted of murder, which proves to be harder than it should be because of the town’s love of Bernie and hate for Marjorie.

Based off of a true story, Bernie incorporates both reenactments of what they suppose happened and actual interviews between the townspeople who actually knew Bernie or Marjorie. I found this to be a very fun and unique way of delivering the story. It has the feel of some sort of crime documentary but at the same time feels like this is taking place in some fantasy world that only exists in the movies. I actually didn’t even know that the interviews we see were between real townspeople until after the movie because they fit into the movie so well. I thought they were actors as well because they were just really funny and fit in with the other characters of the movie. Truth is truly stranger than fiction in Bernie, as the story is so weird and unique that you wouldn’t really believe all this stuff actually happened.

Despite the fact that this story was based on true events, Linklater is still able to maintain the comedy in it. It’s definitely a funny movie, in a smart way. The writing is superb, as it gives the feel that the movie isn’t really trying to be funny but is just showing us this bizarre and weird thing that happened that is funny in itself. The quirky characters mixed with the whole half-documentary feel really brings out some very comedic moments. Even though the subject is so dark, and someone actually died, the film still maintains that quirky and lighthearted feel the whole time.

Jack Black is truly the stand out of the film. He really shows here that he is capable of a lot more than what he has led us on to believe. He truly embodies the character and shows us Bernie in a certain light that makes us love him, even when he has shown himself to be capable of cold-blooded murder. In fact, we even sort of feel sympathy for Bernie. Even though McConaughey’s character seems to be the only logical one in the film, we can’t help but side with Bernie although we know what he did was absolutely wrong. It’s a truly strange situation that really is what makes this film so memorable.

Conclusion: Bernie is such a unique movie because it deals with such dark subject matter, but at the same time, that darkness goes unnoticed by the audience because of the easygoing feel of the film in general. This could be a good or bad thing. I took it as a good thing because I felt the tone of the movie went to reflect the true weirdness of the whole situation. Jack Black was by far the highlight of the movie though, in probably his best performance to date. Probably a really demanding role because of the strange and complex nature of Bernie, Black was the man for it. Linklater gives us a very funny black comedy that is entertaining to watch and was a truly unique take on the true story that it was based off of.

4.5 Stars

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3 thoughts on “Bernie (2011)

  1. Okay, this is available on netflix instant and I have passed it up a few times; but based on your high rating I am going to give it a go. If it sucks I’m gonna sue you. 🙂

      • Okay, so I finally watched it tonight and thought it was pretty good. So you can now rest easy, I won’t be proceeding with the lawsuit. 🙂

        This film was actually very different than I thought. I don’t like to read a lot about a movie before viewing, so I had no idea Bernie was the way he was. I didn’t even know this was a true story about a murder. I actually went into the movie thinking Bernie was a con-man; so the first half of the film I kept waiting for him to reveal his true conniving nature, but later learned he was very sincere, and just had a momentary lapse of judgment.

        Yes, Jack Black was awesome in this role; his best performance since “Shallow Hal”. I always thought he should’ve gotten more credit for that performance. He should also get a lot of credit for this role, as well – in which I think he is.

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