Redeeming Features: "Bernie"

Welcome to Redeeming Features. The blog where I (poorly) review movies that are underappreciated, underrated or under the radar, in hopes of convincing you to give them a second chance. BernieThis week, we have, well, I don’t know; it’s not so much underappreciated, underrated, or under the radar – honestly, feels like it’s just flat unheard of. But it’s on Netflix, so, step away from The Pirate Bay!

This week’s feature is Bernie, starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and oddly enough, Matthew McConaughey. OK, I guess it’s not that odd: Richard Linklater, the director, also directed Dazed and Confused. Also also, he directed School of Rock, so, you sorta see the pattern here.

Before we dive six feet under, know one thing: this is a true story. Albeit, a morbidly funny true story – but true nonetheless. So, just keep that floatin’ ‘round your noggin’ as we read through.

Now Bernie, being a true story, takes place in a true city – Carthage, Texas. Carthage is an itty-bitty baby town way out in East Texas; for frame of reference, if you’re headed to Tyler, you just keep driving right on past until you’re sad. That’s probably Carthage: a 6,500-person town whose only claim to fame is the death of some “sweet” little old lady. Riveting, right?

And again, being a true story, Bernie is based off a true person – Bernie Tiede (Jack Black). Bernie Tiede was a sweet little man, whose only love was the loving the people around him. That, and all the dead people around them – but only because he was a funeral director. And from what we gather, a darn good one, too. Not only does he walk us through the proper prettifying preparations before sending a cadaver off to casketing (in the opening scene), but through a series of interviews, we learn that, well, just about nobody in the whole city of Carthage has one bad word to say about Bernie. Painting him in such lights as, “Real people person,” “just makes you feel real good about yourself,” and “the nicest feller I ever met.” Awwww, cute.

So, now that we know our good, it’s time to meet our evil: Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). Mrs. Nugent is, for lack of a better phrase: a stone-cold bitch. Painted in such lights as “just mean,” or “[someone who] would chew your ass out at the drop of a hat. I mean, she'd rip you a brand new, three-bedroom two-bath, double-wide asshole. No problem.” Awwww, cute. But in some weird, serendipitous fashion (when Mrs. Nugent makes a quick stop at the funeral home after her husband dies), these opposites (Bernie and Mrs. Nugent) attract like two overtly sexual band nerds. You remember those types, right? Always getting handsy in the practice rooms? Usually oboe players. Anyways, these two lonely saps find comfort in each other’s arms, only to become totes BFFs forevs. And they lived happily ever after. The end.

*cue Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar saying, “NAHT!”*

Just as quickly as it begins, we start to realize the sunshiny friendship laid out before us is merely light slipping through the cracks of an otherwise insidious relationship. The plot darkens more and more as the two begin to unravel more and more. Like a tugging thread of fraying sweater, Mrs. Nugent begins to come undone. Maybe it was out of fear of losing Bernie’s friendship, or maybe she’s just an overbearing control-freak psycho, but we start to see them grow further and further apart until the distance between them is so palpable, you could just shoot it in the back.

“Exsqueeze me? Baking powder? Did he just sorta vaguely give away the whole movie?” – you, right now probably, huh? And justly so, too. But remember earlier when I said Carthage’s only claim to fame was the death of some “sweet” little old lady? What I meant was the murder of some “sweet” (read: wretched) little old lady. She dead.

But who did it? Was it simply a break-in gone awry? Some small-town psycho set on stealing more than just Mrs. Nugent’s riches. Perhaps she keeled over unexpectedly from a heart attack, smacking her head on the corner of the dinner table? Or was it in fact Bernie? The man celebrated as being her fondest friend, her closest confidant. Or as Danny Buck (Matthew McConaughey), lead detective and district attorney on the case, so sweetly says, “[he’s] an angel……. Yeah, an angel of death!”

I guess you’ll just have to watch to find out, huh?

Well, actually, I guess you could just look it up on the interwebs. But what’s the fun in that?

TL; DR: true-crime story about a beloved funeral director, who, out of the goodness of his heart, befriends the town shrew, only to become the center of her murder investigation.

Spoiler: McConaughey’s shirt stays on the entire time.

Cody Tidmore is a Level Two sketch student at DCH. He’s been watching movies for as long as he can remember. Seeing it all – the good, the bad, even the ugly. And when it comes to annoyingly working movie quotes into regular conversation, he’s the reel deal.