Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Is Bernie Tiede a wolf in sheep’s clothing or is he merely a well-meaning individual who simply made one really bad decision? Depending on which residents of the small town in Carthage, Texas you ask, the answer will be vastly different. However, the one thing most people will agree on is the fact that Bernie Tiede was well loved by his community. Director Richard Linklater explores this seemingly unconditional love for Tiede in his latest film Bernie.

Based on an article by Skip Hollandsworth in Texas Monthly magazine entitle “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas,” Bernie chronicles the strange relationship between Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), an assistant funeral director, and Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), a widower who took over the local bank that her deceased husband once owned. At first their friendship is nothing more than Tiede being a shoulder for Nugent to lean on after the death of her husband. As the pair get closer, Nugent is soon whisking Tiede on lavish trips all over the world. Considering that Bernie Tiede is known for being kind to widows in the community, most do not think twice about Tiede and Nugent’s lavish lifestyle. However, Nugent’s stockbroker, Lloyld Hombuckle (Richard Robichaux), and a local district attorney, Danny Buck Davidson (Matthew McConaughey), soon begin to question Bernie Tiede’s motives when the relationship between Tiede and Nugent takes an unexpected turn.

There are some tales that are so strange that you would swear it was fiction had it not been based on actual events. Similar to I Love You Phillip Morris, and more recently The Imposter, Bernie is one of these stories. Linklater’s film is primarily a black comedy that weaves in actual interviews with the local townsfolk of Carthage to create a rather interesting experience. While incorporating elements of the documentary format is nothing new, Bernie pulls it off especially well. There is a very natural flow to the whole film. It is only after you reach the 20 minute mark, which most consist of everyone singing the praises of Bernie Tiede, that the true goal of the film becomes apparent.

By using the people of Carthage to share their views on both Bernie Tiede and Marjorie Nugent, Linklater is able to display why a town would rally behind Tiede regardless of some of his actions. What is interesting about the town’s interpretation of Tiede is that he can do no wrong in their eyes. It is Marjorie Nugent and Danny Buck Davidson who come off as villains in the eyes of the communities. Bernie Tiede is by no means a saint, but Jack Black gives such an exquisite performance that seems rather understandable how many would be swayed by Tiede’s charm. Regardless of whether or not you are a fan of Black’s more comedic roles, his work in the film reminds you how versatile and actor Black really is.

Similar to their work on the film School of Rock, Richard Linklater manages to bring out the best in Jack Black. This is evident in the scenes of courtship between Black’s Bernie Tiede and Shirley MacLaine’s Majorie Nugent. At no point do you feel that you are simply watching Jack Black playing Jack Black. Instead we are treated to a rather unique relationship were the motivations on both parts are never quite clear. This is especially true on Tiede’s part, considering Nugent was viewed as despicable by the entire town. Even Tiede seems to have problems dealing with Nugent’s wild mood swings and extremely demanding ways.

Was it all about the money? Individuals like Danny Buck Davidson think so, but the majority of the town refuse to believe that. Linklater also keeps it rather ambiguous as well. While there are scenes that hint to Bernie Tiede enjoying the perks of financial freedom, he tends to give away more money than he keeps. In a perverse way, Tiede is like an overly generous small town Robin Hood. This is probably one of the reasons so many rally around him. It is tough to see the flaws in someone who his helping to rebuild the local church, and funding local community programs.

Bernie is a film that invites us into a small town to hear a tale so strange that it is almost hard to believe. How much of the tale is true? Well like any small town rumour mill, the story will be different depending on who tells it. However, like any good tale, Bernie is a film that you will be happy to sit down with and hear the story over and over. Regardless of what the truth may be.

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