MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo By Millenium Entertainment
Directed by Richard Linklater. Starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine
Bernie Tiede (Black) was a comforting presence in Carthage, Texas. And that’s what he was paid to do as one of the local undertakers. He brought dignity and support to folks in the midst of tragedy and loss. He lived by himself, so he had a lot of time to dedicate to the community. He acted and starred in community theater productions, helped coach a Little League baseball team, and was a song leader and soloist at the First United Methodist Church. Everyone in town seemed to love Bernie.
And then Bernie started courting the widow Marjorie Nugent (MacLaine), considered by many to be the meanest woman in town. Marjorie ran the local bank after her husband (the former bank owner) died and seemed to relish turning down loans. Bernie’s persistent wooing paid off, and soon they became one of the most unusual couples about town. And then, one day, Marjorie disappeared. No one in town knew where she was and no one seemed to care. Did Bernie know anything about her whereabouts? Was deception involved?
Well, that’s the first chapter in Bernie, a delightfully strange and charming film about the ways in which communities are formed and loyalties are created. The film is based on a true crime story (I recently read a New York Times article by Joe Rhodes, Marjorie Nugent’s nephew, who says the story is pretty much true to life) and the film is filled with dozens of locals talking about the events.
And here is where the film gets really brilliant. Writer-director Richard Linklater has some actual citizens of Carthage in the movie, but most of the small parts are played by character actors, delivering hilarious regional recollections of what took place. At first, I wondered why so much of the film was filled with talking heads but, as the story progressed, I began to look forward to seeing some of my favorite characters return to comment on the story one more time. Matthew McConaughey turns up as District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson (and Matthew’s mother shows up in a bit part as well) and has a lot of fun with his tall Texan role.
Both Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine are great in their lead roles. Bernie as a film is as charming as the real Bernie Tiede (currently in prison), and a cautionary tale about how communities (and individuals) choose sides when they have something to gain in the process. It is hard to get justice when the majority decides that they don’t care for it. Bernie is a satirical commentary about the ways in self-interest can inform (and distort) moral choices.
It is one of my favorite movies of this year.
Three halos: A surprisingly entertaining film about community and the ties that bind.
Three pitchforks: For a brutal criminal act; constant Texan cussin’, including the
PG-13 one-time F-bomb free pass..
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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