It’s no secret that Texans like to think of their home-state as one that is superior to any other place on Earth. The diversity of the people who reside in its various regions is matched only by the overwhelming sense of community and pride Texans feel despite the vast stretches of road that separate us. So far, director Richard Linklater has had national success with regional films like DAZED AND CONFUSED and SLACKER and has continually brought the same feelings of community to the films he has made since. This time, Linklater and co-screenwriter Skip Hollandsworth, who wrote the article “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas” for Texas Monthly that the film was based on, return to Texas to bring us BERNIE, opening in New York, L.A., and Austin on the 27th.
BERNIE is the bizarre story of Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) a gentle, kindhearted, assistant funeral director in the small East Texas town of Carthage, who befriends and later murders wealthy, mean-spirited, widow, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley McClaine), by shooting her with a rifle intended to kill armadillos and then placed her body in a freezer while he convinced the town she was still alive for months, spending her money on cars for other people, a new wing for the Methodist Church, and on musical productions for the High School theater. The film is narrated by a chorus of “gossips,” the inhabitants of Carthage who give their commentary on what happened that turned the sweetest man in town into a killer. Importantly, while some of the gossips are actors, many of them are actual townsfolk talking about their memories of the real Bernie and Mrs. Nugent, giving this film an aspect of documentary.
And while the death of Marjorie Nugent is a dark event, there are many touches of comedy in this film. They found her body wrapped in a Lands’ End sheet underneath chicken pot pies, and, as one of the gossips put it, “There are people in this town, honey, who would have shot her for five dollars.” The community of Carthage was so much on Bernie’s side, that prosecutor, Danny Buck Davidson (Mathew Mcconaughey) had to move the trial two counties over in order to find a jury willing to convict him.
BERNIE is an extremely enjoyable depiction of why you should not mistreat your friends, and the kind of community that most Texans are familiar with.