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Bernie (2011 film)

Bernie
220px
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Richard Linklater
Produced by Celine Rattray
Martin Shafer
Liz Glotzer
Matt Williams
David McFadzean
Judd Payne
Dete Meserve
Ginger Sledge
Richard Linklater
Screenplay by Skip Hollandsworth
Richard Linklater
Based on Texas Monthly 
by Skip Hollandsworth
Starring Jack Black
Shirley MacLaine
Matthew McConaughey
Music by Graham Reynolds
Cinematography Dick Pope
Editing by Sandra Adair
Studio Mandalay Vision
Wind Dancer Films
Detour Filmproduction
Distributed by Millennium Entertainment[1]
Release date(s)
Running time 99 minutes[2]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $6 million[3]
Box office $9,191,638[4]

Bernie is a 2011 black comedy film directed by Richard Linklater, and written by Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth. The film stars Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey. It is based on a 1998 Texas Monthly magazine article by Hollandsworth, "Midnight in the Garden of East Texas,"[5] that chronicles the 1996 murder of 81-year-old millionaire Marjorie Nugent in Carthage, Texas by her 39-year-old companion,[6] Bernhardt "Bernie" Tiede. Tiede proved so highly regarded in Carthage that, in spite of having confessed to the police, the District Attorney was eventually forced to request a rare prosecutorial change of venue in order to secure a fair trial.

Plot

In small-town Carthage, Texas, local assistant mortician Bernie Tiede, a beloved member of the community, becomes the only friend of the wealthy, recently widowed Marjorie Nugent, who is widely considered cold and unpleasant by the other townsfolk. Tiede, in his late 30s, and the elderly Nugent quickly become inseparable, frequently traveling and lunching together, though Tiede's social life becomes hindered by Nugent's constant and sometimes abusive need for his attention.

Tiede murders Nugent after growing weary of the emotional toll of her possessiveness, persistent nagging and non-stop putdowns. For nine months, Tiede takes advantage of her poor reputation to excuse her absence with few questions while using her money to support local businesses and neighbors. Finally, Nugent's stockbroker becomes concerned by her absence and enlists the help of her estranged family by using Tiede's neglect of payments previously agreed upon by the family. This results in an authorized police search of her house that concludes with the discovery of her body in a meat freezer.

The local district attorney, Danny Buck Davidson, charges Tiede with first-degree (premeditated) murder. Tiede is arrested and he soon confesses that he killed Nugent while claiming her emotional abuse as a mitigating circumstance. Despite this confession, many citizens of Carthage still rally to the murderer's defense, with some even asserting that Nugent deserved to die. Frustrated, Davidson successfully requests a change of venue to the town of San Augustine, 50 miles away, to avoid selecting a biased jury. Despite the absence of evidence of premeditation, Tiede is found guilty as charged and imprisoned for life.

Cast

  • Jack Black as Bernie Tiede
  • Shirley MacLaine as Marjorie "Marge" Nugent
  • Matthew McConaughey as Danny Buck Davidson
  • Brady Coleman as Scrappy Holmes
  • Richard Robichaux as Lloyd Hornbuckle
  • Rick Dial as Don Leggett
  • Brandon Smith as Sheriff Huckabee
  • Larry Jack Dotson as Rev. Woodard
  • Merrilee McCommas as Molly
  • Mathew Greer as Carl

Production

Principal photography took 22 days,[7] during September–October 2010, in Bastrop, Smithville, Georgetown, Lockhart, Carthage and Austin, Texas.

The film creates uncertainty by mixing documentary conventions with fictional elements. There are talking-head interviews with Carthage town gossips; some of the talking heads are performers, while some are townspeople playing themselves.[7]

Linklater said the screenplay he co-wrote with Skip Hollandsworth was a boring read, and that "the gossip element almost kept the film from being made, because it reads boring. I said, 'But they’ll be funny characters. I could just imagine the accents.'”[8]

Release

The film made its world premiere as the opening night film of the 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival. Millennium Entertainment released the film on April 27, 2012.[9]

Reception

Critical response

The film received general acclaim from critics, with a score of 90%, based on 145 reviews, on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes and a rating average of 7.5 out of 10. Jack Black's performance in the title role was widely praised.[10]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times enjoyed the film, giving it 3 and a half stars out of 4. He would go on to give particular praise to Jack Black's performance as well as Linklater's direction, saying "His genius was to see Jack Black as Bernie Tiede."

Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum praised the film, calling it a companion piece to Linklater's 1998 film The Newton Boys and describing the writing as "so good that the humor can’t be reduced to simple satire; a whole community winds up speaking through the film, and it has a lot to say. In fact, it’s hard to think of many other celebrations of small-town American life that are quite as rich, as warm, and as complexly layered, at least within recent years."[11]

In a positive review in Slate, Dana Stevens lauded the performances of the three leads, saying that both Black and McConaughey are at their best when working with Linklater. But she reserved her highest praise for "the good people of Carthage, who, sitting on porches or the hoods of their cars, recount the strange story of Bernie Tiede and Marjorie Nugent".[12]

Marc Savlov of The Austin Chronicle said:

If I hadn't already read Skip Hollandsworth's Texas Monthly article recounting the tragicomic tale of Carthage's assistant funeral director Bernie Tiede, I'd swear this film adaptation was based on one of Joe R. Lansdale's East Texas gothics. As ever, truth proves itself stranger than fiction and the human heart (which is stranger and more inscrutable than anything). And Jack Black redeems himself (for Gulliver's Travels, among other things) with a subtly quirky performance that's one of his personal best.[13]

Gregory Ellwood of HitFix said the film is "not as funny as Linklater wants it to be...". But he went on to praise Black's performance: "Black is simply great... making you believe someone like Bernie could really exist and while accenting his funny characteristics also portraying him as three-dimensional character."[14]

Eric Kohn of indieWIRE called it "an oddly endearing love letter to Southern eccentricities". He found the film hard to categorize, saying: "Bernie is a shape-shifting genre vehicle set apart from anything else in Linklater’s career. There’s a loose sensibility to this mockumentary—mysterious comedy? comedic mystery? It’s tough to categorize as anything beyond an enjoyable experience."[15]

Mary Pols, writing in Time, gave the film an unfavorable review: "You would be hard pressed to find a film that feels more true to a reporter’s experience of an event. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, at least not cinematically... The movie translation is playful and cunning but never escapes the reportorial trap; observation after the fact rarely matches the energy of experience... The big problem with playing this same note over and over again is that while the pairing of a 81-year-old harridan and the 39-year-old effeminate mensch, whether off on a cruise together or dining at the local taqueria, may sound funny, it’s mostly just sad."[16]

Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly named the film one of the top ten films of 2012 calling it a "deviously droll light-comic tabloid docudrama".[17]

Local response

The making of the film, based on an article in Texas Monthly magazine by Skip Hollandsworth, who also co-wrote the comedic film with Linklater, divided citizens of Carthage, Texas, the small town in East Texas where the Nugent murder occurred. In the film, Linklater includes interviews with several Carthage residents about their feelings of support for Bernie Tiede. Some citizens hope the film will stimulate an increase in tourism, while others have voiced anger that a comedy film was derived from the events surrounding the murder of an 81-year-old woman.

"You can't make a dark comedy out of a murder," says Panola County District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson (portrayed in the film by McConaughey). "This movie is not historically accurate," adds Davidson, who says that Nugent's story is missing. "The movie does not tell her side of the story."[18]

"If it was fiction it might be funny, but this was a real person in a real town and no, I don't think it's funny at all," says Carthage resident Toni Clements who knew both Tiede and Nugent.[18]

Owners of the Hawthorn Funeral Home in Carthage, Texas, where Bernie Tiede met Marjorie Nugent, refused to allow the film to use the name of the funeral home in the movie. “We felt we did not want the Hawthorn Funeral Home name or family name thought of in a dark comedy... you always know locally these are real people and families so there is a sting.”[19]

"I've now seen the movie Bernie twice and, except for a few insignificant details ... it tells the story pretty much the way it happened," Joe Rhodes, Nugent's nephew, wrote in The New York Times Magazine shortly before the film's general release. His cousin Rod, Nugent's only child, did not return his calls and had his lawyer send Rhodes a letter strongly insinuating the possibility of legal action. "I guarantee he won't like it."[20]

Accolades

Bernie earned nominations for Best Feature and Best Ensemble Performance at the 2012 Gotham Awards.[21] The film was nominated for Best Feature at the 2012 Independent Spirit Awards, while Black received a nomination for Best Male Lead.[22] The National Board of Review included Bernie in their Top 10 Independent Films.[23] The Broadcast Film Critics Association nominated Bernie for Best Comedy. Black earned a nomination for Best Actor in a Comedy, while MacLaine was nominated for Best Actress in a Comedy.[24]

Jack Black's performance as Bernie Tiede earned him a Golden Globe nomination.[25]

A reader survey by the Los Angeles Times named it "most under-appreciated" film of 2012, from a shortlist of seven films selected by the newspaper.[26]

Bernie won Rotten Tomatoes' 14th annual Golden Tomato award for the best reviewed comedy released in 2012.[27]

References

External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • AllRovi
  • Rotten Tomatoes
  • Metacritic
  • Box Office Mojo
  • Justice for Bernie Tiede - Official Bernie Tiede site
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