Murder is the last thing anyone should joke about. Yet, writer and director Richard Linklater took a morbid subject and turned it into a lighthearted comedy which features Jack Black as a funeral director-turned-killer.
“Bernie” follows a funeral director in Carthage, Texas named Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) who is well liked by the people of Carthage and seems to be living a great life until he meets a wealthy widow named Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). Nugent is abusive towards Tiede which eventually leads him to murder her.
The wholesome nature of Black’s performance as Tiede is a spectacle to watch. He’s charming and sweet while also being mysterious. Black’s comedic timing is brilliantly used in moments that could have easily been serious. Matthew McConaughey as district attorney Danny Buck Davidson is also entertaining to watch, especially when Tiede is on trial.
Linklater’s choice to film “Bernie” in the style of a documentary was interesting, since half of the people interviewed were actors while the other half were actual residents of Carthage. Even with actors filling the role of some residents, they felt like real people sharing their thoughts on someone who was considered a town legend.
The strangest part of “Bernie,” however, has nothing to do with the acting or the writing but that the film is based on a true story. The real life Tiede is currently serving a life sentence for murdering Nugent.
Another wholesome part of “Bernie” is how Linklater portrays the town of Carthage. It may be a small town in eastern Texas, but the sense of community that is portrayed makes the audience feel right at home. Even the funeral home where Tiede worked felt charming and cozy. The credits are also entertaining since we get to see some of the residents talk about Tiede while also sharing their thoughts on murder coverage in Carthage.
Out of all the dark comedies I have seen, “Bernie” is the best one I’ve watched in a long time. Linklater and co-writer Skip Hollandsworth crafted a genuine portrayal of small town life and what abuse will do to even the kindest of people. “Bernie” is not a nasty or cold film. Some of the humor may seem strange but it’s more of a cathartic release of grief instead of being malicious.
If there is one thing that “Bernie” taught me about life it’s that just because someone committed a crime, it doesn’t mean they are evil. Linklater asks viewers to look at Tiede as a person rather than just a murderer. This concept is almost alien in most movies involving murder but Linklater does not like following standard film conventions.
If you’re in the mood for a lighthearted dark comedy based on a true story with a great cast and excellent writing, “Bernie” is the film for you. Black gave the performance of his career and Linklater made his best movie since “Dazed and Confused.” It is a pleasant film with a twisted main character.
Ian Ward is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.