Bernie (2011)
June 12, 2020 9:02 PM - Subscribe

In small-town Texas, an affable mortician strikes up a friendship with a wealthy widow, though when she starts to become controlling, he goes to great lengths to separate himself from her grasp.

Empire: In one of those true stories so crazy you could not make it up — eye-catchingly chronicled in a Texas Monthly magazine article called Midnight In The Garden Of East Texas, by Skip Hollandsworth — Richard Linklater strikes gold, turning it into a droll, dark comedy of manners, and a showcase for the unobvious, quite inspired casting of Jack Black as the eponymous undertaker and “real nice” man whose generous personality might see him forgiven for just about anything.

Vulture: Black plays Bernie Tiede, an assistant funeral director whose trial for shooting down a rich, elderly widow in 1996 was the basis of Skip Hollandsworth’s Texas Monthly piece “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas.” The twist is that Bernie — a cheerful, effeminate do-gooder, probably gay, most likely celibate — was far better-liked than the nasty piece of work he killed, apparently after being driven to the breaking point by her relentless broadsides. As in Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant!, the audience is meant to scrutinize the protagonist’s mask of “normalcy” and look for chinks — glimmers of the pathology that we know from the movie’s premise is going to lead to a bad place. Black’s mask, though, stays fixed. He’s glimmerless.

NYTimes: Working from his and Mr. Hollandsworth’s script, Mr. Linklater doesn’t lead with the bummer side of the story but instead sets a broad, slightly uncomfortable comic tone that makes it difficult — intentionally, I think — to know if you’re meant to be laughing or recoiling. (Both are right.) Mr. Black can be an almost insistently demanding presence, and the moment he cuts loose in the movie, belting out a gospel song as if it’s a show tune, and then the reverse, he pulls you in hard. So it’s telling that Mr. Linklater opens the movie with Bernie showing mortuary students how to prettify a corpse. As he stands before his audience, he registers as both a director and performer, and a bit like a happy Frankenstein reanimating the dead.

Roger Ebert: There are flat-footed ways this story could have been told. Linklater finds a tricky note difficult to define. "Bernie" never declares itself a comedy; often when we laugh we're thinking, "I can't believe I'm seeing this." An unspoken compact grows between Bernie and Marjorie in which neither one declares exactly what's going on, but the fiction is maintained that Bernie believes her worthy of his kindest attentions, and she believes that at last a man has gotten her right. But a relationship this problematic can't last forever, and eventually Bernie shoots Marjorie four times in the back.

AV Club: After providing Jack Black with by far his best showcase to date in 2003’s School Of Rock, Linklater again gets the most out of Black’s devilish grin and zeal for musical performance. Black plays Tiede as the townspeople see him: a friendly, exuberant, civic-minded churchgoer who comforted the aggrieved, sang beautifully in the choir, and tolerated the meanest woman in town for as long as he could. Shirley MacLaine, with those old comic chops still very much intact, turns Nugent into a dark force of resistance to Tiede’s cheery disposition. As Tiede becomes more of a presence in Nugent’s life, joining her on trips overseas and eventually becoming a kind of manservant, the two engage in a battle of wills that changes both of them. Tiede’s devotion wears down Nugent’s defenses and brings some measure of happiness to her twilight years, while Nugent’s sour, controlling personality suffocates her companion until he finally snaps.

Rolling Stone: A Linklater inspiration in adapting Bernie’s story, with the help of journalist Skip Hollandsworth, was to include interviews with the Carthage townsfolk whose wit and wisdom make you think of Our Town as directed by Christopher Guest. No use trying to describe Bernie. It’s a one-of-a-kind inspiration. You will never feel closer to a convicted killer.

Midnight in the Garden of East Texas

The Story of Bernie Tiede

‘Bernie’ Headed To Jail: Real-Life Inspiration For Richard Linklater’s Film Sentenced To 99 Years


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posted by MoonOrb (3 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I enjoyed this but was creeped out by a scene where Bernie uses an iPhone. Before that he was using a pager and a flip phone, since it was the 90’s. It’s a pretty big error to make, and a lot of people had the chance to correct it. It’s creepy because that’s how blind people are to these devices.
posted by dianeF at 5:15 AM on June 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

I loved this movie. I had already known the story as it is juicy enough to have a few of it's own Dateline/Discovery ID specials. I seriously really disliked Jack Black before this movie but he did suuuuch a good job and seriously this story is very true. Really well done. A+ would watch again.
posted by LizBoBiz at 7:44 AM on June 18, 2020

This is one of my all time favorite movies. I've watched about 6 or 7 times. Jack Black is so good as Bernie. Shirley McClain is incredible too.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:17 PM on June 19, 2020

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