★★★ 1/2 A
Directed by Richard Linklater
Screenplay by Richard Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth
Based off the Texas Monthly Article, Midnight in the Garden of East Texas by Skip Hollandsworth
Jack Black: Bernie Tiede
Shirley MacLaine: Majorie Nugent
Matthew McConaughey: Danney Buck
Rick Dial: Don Leggett
Brandon Smith: Sherriff Huckabee
Bernie is a fantastically funny movie based off the true story of Bernie Tiede. The story is told as a sort-of-mockumentary. The story being that Bernie (Jack Black) is the nicest man in town (“If the town had to come up with a list of who would go to heaven, Bernie’d be right at the top.”) He is the assistant head of a funeral home, he sings at the receptions, sells people coffins (“I am not fond of cremations.”), directs and stars in all of the community theaters shows, comforts every little old lady in grief (think Max Bialistock only with the exact opposite motives) and buys things for people he’s only just met.
Then, Bernie started comforting a woman whose incredibly wealthy husband just died, Majorie Nuggent (Shirley MacLaine), the meanest woman ever (“People would have happily shot her for five bucks.”) At first we might think that it is just a relationship that escalades, but then Linklater and Hollandsworth ask a very important question: Is Bernie Gay? The answer is overwhelmingly yes, which (while I could care less) is a big deal for this small, church-raised town. And it also means it isn’t romantic.
Long story short, Bernie kills her. That doesn’t give anything away though. The story is told by an ensemble of actors and real townspeople actually speaking their minds. Which is which? We don’t know because they are all equally hilarious. But they make this story unbiased. Was Bernie after her money? Certainly not. Was he innocent. Again, no. He confessed. So, what do you do? Its up to Matthew McConaughey’s chauvinistic, idiotic DA to convict him.
Jack Black deserves an Oscar! His performance is the best male performance up to this point in the year save perhaps those of Paul Dano and Robert DeNiro in Paul Weitz’s outlandishly dark comedy/drama (not a dramedy), Being Flynn. His character is a tricky balance between parody-based caricature and historically accurate representation. This is the second time he’s worked with Linklater and I can safely say that both times have released 2 (of 3) his best performances, his prior collaboration being School of Rock (2003) (his 3rd performance was in the dramatic, supporting role as Carl Denham, the human antagonist of Peter Jackson’s King Kong). McConaughey gave a wonderful performance but he will not be winning any awards for it due to his much buzzed about role as the title role in the Cannes selected film Mud opposite Reese Witherspoon. MacLaine gave a great performance but her part is not the Acadamy Award winning fare she gave before for Terms of Endearment (1983) or The Apartment (1960). By far though, the best part of the movie were the interviews and their absolutely hilarious lines/statements.