Richard Linklater’s ‘Bernie’

Bernie_film_posterTruth really is stranger than fiction. And that’s definitely the case with Richard Linklater’sBernie” (2011).

This film’s tagline says it all: “A story so unbelievable it must be true.” Like many moviegoers these days, I discount any claims of a “true story” at the beginning of a film, and this movie was no different. Most of the unsettling story of assistant funeral director Bernie Tiede (played hilariously and heartfelt by Jack Black) and his bizarre relationship with widow Marjorie Nugent (portrayed in crotchety glory by Shirley MacLaine) is told documentary-style by well-chosen actors who play small-town, plain-spoken residents.

Wrong.

Each firsthand account of Bernie and Marjorie’s story comes from real Carthage, Texas, citizens. I didn’t realize this myself until the movie was over and I watched through all the credits, which identified all the testimonial characters as being interviewed for the film, not acting.

It would be easy to assume these people are exaggerated. How often does one hear someone seriously say, “That dog don’t hunt”? If you’re familiar with these types of areas of the country, probably fairly often. What makes “Bernie” such an intriguing film isn’t just the story; it’s the storytellers.

If this movie were shot run-of-the-mill, total actor portrayal, based-on-a-true-story style, it would be a dull affair. Although I thought Black, MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey were nothing short of spectacular, my little movie nerd heart skipped a beat every time the local townspeople appeared on the screen.

I’m not sure I could go so far as to say this film style was fresh (we do have documentaries, after all), but the reward really came from the surprise of the movie’s authenticity. Sure, the story was probably tweaked, creative liberties were likely taken, but I mean authenticity in the sense that they let the Carthage people be themselves.

(Disclaimer: I know no form of “reality” in film and TV is truly real, but the point I’m making here is that the filmmakers let the bulk of the story come from the mouths of the people who were actually there to witness it. Kind of like watching “48 Hours.”)

I think I’ve done enough talking here. I’ll leave you with a taste of golden nuggets from one of the good ol’ boys of Carthage.

If you want to read a little more about the real Bernie Tiede, you can find it here.

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2 thoughts on “Richard Linklater’s ‘Bernie’

  1. Not sure where else to post this but I was a huge fan of this filmmaker and have loved his films, to date. Until he answers the question of why he stands behind getting Bernie Tiede out of jail, if in fact that is what happened, and is supporting Bernie’s financial campaign to raise money for his defense case, I WILL NOT watch any more movies that he has made. Bernie was a murderer. The movie was funny and sad and well-made but it’s a real-life murder case and Bernie killed an 80+ year old rich lady! He chose to pursue her and he could have walked away at any time. (I know, the ABUSE EXCUSE!) He shot her, wrapped her up, and put her in the freezer; he then spent nine months pretending that she was still alive. He is a murderer and he is a Machiavellian gold digger. Hey there Richard, can you answer to this?

    • It raises some eyebrows, certainly. But then again, it wouldn’t be the first time Hollywood types have been associated with people or activities widely believed to be unsavory, at the least.

      I wasn’t aware all that had transpired since the film. Thanks for posting!

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