The film is based on a 1998 article in Texas Monthly which was written by Skip Hollandsworth. ~IMDB
Based on a true story, Richard Linklater’s Bernie follows a funeral director who befriends a millionaire widow. The two become close companions, traveling to foreign countries, spending lavish weekends at luxurious spa’s, attending the opera and going to Broadway musicals. The small town of Carthage (located in Texas) is a buzz with weather the two were just close companions or lovers. In any case Bernie (Jack Black; The School Of Rock) is a much loved member of the community, even if his companion, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine; Terms Of Endearment), is hated by all. When Bernie, who has been under constant duress by a very possessive Marjorie, shoots and kills her he decides to hide her body and continues on with his life, doing his best to cover up her absence to the townspeople, her family, and her persistent financial advisor.
Linklater uses a documentary type approach towards telling the story of Bernie Tiede. Townies, Bernie’s employer at the funeral home, friends and neighbors all chime in on the story of Bernie and Marjorie in interviews, most of it to hilarious effect. In the black comedy tradition Linklater really manages to capture something as dark as murder and create a laugh fest out of it. Jack Black, who over the years has slowly drifted out of my interests, actually provides one of his best performances, possibly ever. Shirley MacLaine is also fantastic.
We all knew Jack Black could sing. Most people who didn’t know were pleasantly surprised when he appeared in the 2000 film High Fidelity where he pretty much closes out his performance in the film with a cover of Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On. If your like me you had never heard of Tenacious D until way later. In any case his performance in Bernie is marked with some pretty amazing songs such as Amazing Grace and a performance of Seventy Six Trombones from the musical The Music Man, among others. I was completely blown away by his musical range in this film. He’s actually a very beautiful singer. As for his acting, superb. If you stay with the film towards the back end of the credits you see a short clip of the real Bernie Tiede in prison which pans over slowly to reveal Jack Black listening to him speak. Obviously he put a lot of time and work into recreating the mannerisms, speech, and quirky tics of Bernie Tiede. It’s not exactly Jim Carrey in Man In The Moon but it’s far from his usual performances that are give or take.
Like a lot of Linklater’s previous work he manages to piece together Bernie with a social commentary that alternates between an in your face example of what’s wrong with the world as mirrored by the reactions to the Tiede case as well as laying low and allowing you to kind of come to your own hypothesis about how we treat one another in the world, weather it be judging someone on their sexual preferences, appearance or whatever. Some of the characters manage to toss out these idea’s naturally while others, like Matthew McConaughey’s (Dazed and Confused) sometimes over the top portrayal of Danny Buck, the man who tried Bernie Tiede in trial, is more overblown in his prejudices. In any case Linklater delivers another solid film that manages to be quirky, dark, and more then a bit odd at times, but all together an enjoyable film that I can see myself enjoying with multiple views. I highly suggest seeing it. Enjoy.