The overrated Richard Linklater has a good film in Bernie (2012), which is based on a true story. He collaborated on the movie’s screenplay with Skip Hollandsworth, author of a 1998 magazine article about one Bernie Tiede of Carthage, Texas.
Acted by Jack Black, Bernie is a very nice, very benevolent Christian employed as a funeral director. He befriends the elderly, wealthy Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) after her husband dies and accompanies her to all kinds of places, only to find out how selfish and monstrously controlling Marjorie is. Vexed, he finally shoots her to death and is astonished at what he’s done. After hiding the body, Bernie goes on with his life and, as critic Peter Rainer has indicated, remains an upstanding citizen in Carthage. Before long, however, the truth is discovered.
Actual townspeople comment on the popular Bernie throughout the film (by no means did they like Marjorie). To Linklater, Bernie Tiede is a basically good man, notwithstanding he snapped. It prompts a question: Why must human goodness, wherever it’s found, be interrupted, temporarily upended? Correlatively, why does human badness, such as that of Marjorie, simply continue?
I am motivated to raise another matter as well. It may be that Christian Bernie was wrong to spend so much of his time with a pronouncedly unworthy nonbeliever, especially when he started living the high life with her. He was right to love her, as a friend, but not to hang out with her. Food for thought.
Though its predictability keeps it from being great, Black’s performance is nevertheless smart and magnetic. McLaine’s acting is perfectly knowing, never false. Bernie is a meaningful comic tragedy, far superior to such Linklater films as Dazed and Confused.