Most movies based on real events identify themselves as fact-based or inspired by or some similar caveat to suggest that a certain amount of license has been taken. Richard Linklater’s Bernie, on the other hand, merely tells you, “What you’re fixin’ to see is a true story.” That’s both the tone and substance of the film. Under most circumstances, I’d take issue with such a claim, but since the film at hand is as much about the perception of Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) by the folks of the town he lived in — and is delivered by them in interviews — as it is about Bernie, I’m inclined to let it slide. In reality, I guess it is part dramatization and part something like a documentary, though maybe gossip-mentary would be nearer the truth. The film is based on a 1998 article by Skip Hollandsworth, who co-authored the screenplay with Linklater, and is set in Carthage, Texas, a sleepy little town that exists somewhere between the gush of the chamber of commerce and one local woman’s forthright assessment, “Oh, hell, most people live in Carthage because they were born here.” And easily the best-liked person in the town is Bernie, the assistant local funeral director. Bernie might be “a little light in the loafers,” but he’s just so darn nice that everbody likes him. He’s unfailingly friendly, cares about his work, and is at his best and most appealing when dealing with grieving widows. It’s that last thing that sets the drama in motion when he sets out to thaw the “meanest woman in town,” Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), who also happens to be the richest woman in town. What happens when he does thaw her out — well, that’s the crux of the film, and it’s funny, touching, tragic, disturbing, and probably the most unusual movie you’ll see all year.
Director: Richard Linklater
Writer: Richard Linklater
Cast: Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, Shirley MacLaine, Rick Dial, Gary Teague, Mona Lee Fultz, David Blackwell and Tommy G. Kendrick