April 29, 2012, 2:28 am
Filed under: Film, Opinion | Tags: , , , ,


Based on a true story, Bernie takes place in the small East Texas town of Carthage where few come or go and everyone knows each others’ stories and backgrounds, though they may be sweepingly similar. The most beloved resident of Carthage, TX is Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), a flamboyantly generous and good-natured individual utterly devoted to his vocation as a devoutly christian mortician. While harboring a strange affinity for older women and a pronounced effeminancy, Bernie is well loved by all those around him who look to him for emotional support and resolution. Bernie becomes inexplicably attached to a wealthy widow, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley Maclaine), whom the community regards with the opposite esteem they do Bernie. Bernie finds himself ensnared in a life completely dictated by Marjorie’s wills and desires to the point that his murder of her is met sympathy by the members of the community whose testimonials to the camera serve as the story’s narration. District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson (Matthew McConaughey) attempts to convince the law of Bernie’s guilt despite the understanding of the townsfolk.

 If you like Richard Linklater movies-

-you probably enjoy them for his willingness to work outside of typical narrative structure as in Slacker or Waking Life which are each composed of thematic vignettes strung together without beginnings and ends. His films Before Sunset and Before Sunrise are entirely made up by an ongoing conversation between the same two people as they walk the streets of Paris and Prague.

You might also appreciate the social, philosophical, and metaphysical discussions featured strongly in any of the aforementioned movies and that pervade the rest of his work to a greater or lesser degree.

You may also be impressed by the astonishing dedication to his art that he exhibits in A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life, both films having been the result the extraordinarily grueling work (at the time) of rotoscoping. And, if so, you are probably excited for this project, filmed over a period of 12 years so that the final product about a boy’s growth over the entire time period is portrayed by the same actor.

Bernie has some of these things, but not all. The story is mostly expressed through the gossiping testimonials of the townspeople. This daring narrative technique prevented the film from being made for several years, but is the primary formal characteristic of this movie. The plot moves forward with the testimony of interviews which also paint a profile of East Texas culture. It’s a unique device, but it showcases none of the directorial deftness we can marvel at in Slacker. As for the intellectual enlightenment factor, this film does not suppose to question the metaphysical fabric of our lives, but it is good for a new understanding of small-town life and for questioning practical ethics like why a man who is clearly not a harm to society should be put in jail just for committing murder. In terms of Linklater’s directorial ambitions- though this film displays no attempt to defy popular filmmaking formats even in its reliance scuttlebutt story-telling, it is clear that Linklater is fascinated by the story he has to tell and is very invested in his portrayal of East Texas.

If you like Jack Black movies-

-and you’re seeing this movie because you like Jack Black, you’ll probably have a good time. I wouldn’t call this a “Jack Black Movie” like I would School of Rock (directed by Linklater) or Nacho Libre. But you’re also not going to see a movie where his Jack Blackness is subjugated to the characters’ role in the story, like in Margot at the Wedding or King Kong. Jack Black hits the role of Bernie Tiede with all the energy and vim we usually come to think of him with, but he hones it all into a very particular character (a real life person actually).

The confounding human being that is Bernie Tiede somehow comes alive in what easily stands out as the most nuanced performance of Jack Black’s career. In the end though, as with most of his roles, it is impossible not to look at Bernie Tiede and see Jack Black.

If you think Matthew McConaughey is damn fine-

-you’re probably right. However, unlike Jack Black’s portrayal of Bernie, McConaughey is hardly visible behind the character he plays. District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson is not nearly as subtle and complex as Bernie, but McConaughey still morphs into a character we recognize for his place in the story and not for his being Matthew McConaughey. Though he still manages to be vice president in charge of the lookin’ good.

he wears a shirt the whole time.

If you remembering having a huge crush on Shirley Maclaine in her younger days-

         -I don’t know if she ever lost it, but it’s certain she’s got it.

If you have opinions on Texas-

-This movie is good if you like making fun of Texas or if you have a lot of Texas pride, or both. It’s funny, but not ironic.

If you have a dark sense of humor-

-None of the laughs in this movie are cheap. Though it seems very removed, it’s still a story about murder and you are still laughing about it.

If you just need to sit down at watch something that you’ll enjoy no matter what-

-The movie lags and you can feel free to get up and pee when it starts to. As in, it’s easy to pick up again if you get distracted. Each scene of this movie is pretty entertaining in its own right and it might be okay to zone out every once in a while. You’ll probably be entertained by this movie and when you’re not, just check back in a couple minutes later.

If you are looking for something to sit down, dive into, and appreciate-

-Take a break and have fun. This movie gives you a lot to think about without the pressure. You don’t have to necessarily search for a deeper meaning, but you’ll have a lot of things to think about.

If you are looking for something original-

-You should watch this movie.

If you’re wondering what Richard Linklater looks like-

Lucas Green

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