Everybody Loves Bernie

Coffin set up for viewing
Source: Robert Lawton

Need a favor? Any favor at all? In Carthage, Texas, Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) is your man. While he is especially good with the performing arts, his vocation is as a funeral director, and he will even sing at your final ceremony if you ask. Bernie is especially good with widows, calling on them with care packages, which is how he befriends wealthy Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). Ms. Nugent is Bernie’s polar opposite. As one of the townspeople says, “most people would shoot her for five dollars.” Because Bernie is so eager to please and friendly (even by eastern Texas standards), she sucks him in, making him a travelling companion to exotic locales, accompanying her even to the local Mexican restaurant. In fact, Miss Marjorie fires her household staff and completely relies on Bernie. Unfortunately, she starts making him do things he really doesn’t want to do, like trimming her nails and shooting at armadillos. That Bernie finally snaps really should come as no surprise. That’s when Danny Buck (Matthew McConaughey), the local prosecutor with an unfortunate habit of grandstanding gets involved. Like the rest of this picture, the results could only happen in Texas.

Richard Linklater has co-authored a script with Skip Hollandsworth based in Hollandsworth’s magazine article about a true case of Texas charm gone wrong. Jack Black proves an actor of surprising nuance, and Lloyd Hornbuckle stands out among the non-big-name actors as Ms. Nugent’s suspicious financial advisor. The use of fictional interviews with townspeople works well, adding to the verisimilitude. If this had been an Ingmar Bergman drama, the movie would have been just Bernie and Marjorie, but since this a black comedy, it seems that the whole town gets in on the act. In the end, they seem to say, love the sinner, and perhaps the sin was a public service.

More Richard Linklater, please:

The School of Rock Jack Black is put where no typical Jack Black character should ever be put: in a position of responsibility for children. He’s a wanna-be rock star temporarily teaching music at a prep school in this bombastic comedy.

Fast Food Nation Another ensemble piece, and like Bernie based on a piece of nonfiction. This film looks at the many interests involved in the fast food industry and its destructive power.

Before Sunrise/Before Sunset/Before Midnight Linklater’s trilogy of two travelers (Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke) who keep meeting in European cities and talk the night (or day) away.