Bernie is based on the true life story about a small town Texas mortician who is known as Bernie (Jack Black) to everyone. All the townspeople generally consider Bernie to be practically a saint. He is kind and compassionate to everyone, he donates all his time and money to charity, and goes above and beyond in giving family the best funeral experience for their loved ones. Bernie meets up with elderly widow Marjorie (Shirley MacLaine) who is generally considered by the townspeople to be the most bitter and hateful (but wealthy) person on the planet. Eventually the bitterness is too much for nice Bernie who murders Marjorie and tries to hide the murder from the public.
Bernie is kind of like half mockumentary and half docudrama/comedy. The mockumentary comes in with the story being broken up by talking head segments where the townspeople give their two cents on all the people involved, the trial, and general gossip. The docudrama-ish part is actually seeing things unfold with Bernie, Marjorie and the subsequent murder trial.
Bernie is half an inspired movie which comes from the mockumentary angle. I’m sorry to say that in this true crime story, the true crime isn’t all that interesting. In this movie, the crime isn’t as important or as funny as everyone’s reactions to the crime. Much of the satire is derived from these simple small town people trying to make sense and rationalize what is going on. Some of them believe Bernie is railroaded because he is a living saint, and some believe anyone would have murdered Marjorie if they had to live with her. It is funny to see the prosecutor (played by Matthew McConaughey) losing his mind as everyone in the town is praying for Bernie and asking if he could get probation for murder. One of the funniest bits to me is when the fake interviewer asks if Bernie was gay and one woman responds by saying that Jesus too wore sandals all the time and hung out with men and if it didn’t make Jesus gay it was good enough for Bernie. This crime blew the collective community’s mind and they are doing their best to make sense of it all.
The parts involving Bernie and Marjorie just aren’t as interesting despite the best efforts of all the good actors. It is just that Linklater decides to play this rather straight instead of going full ahead into dark comedy territory. All we have to entertain us is Black’s performance which is like a muted version of Zach Galifianikis‘ character in the Campaign. In the end the murder of a rich woman in a small midwestern town ends up rather banal. I would have preferred if Linklater had pushed the boundaries and made it a darker comedy about this patient loving saint brought to a murderous rage by the most annoying woman ever.
The best I can muster for Bernie is that it is an amusing movie. It does not go far enough to be a funny movie but the faux documentary segments are the most entertaining part. I saw this movie as a die hard Linklater fan and while this was an overall good movie, it is not good enough for me to recommend you go out and rent this.