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Rating: 4.0 / 5.0 (353 votes)

Released: 2012-08-21

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Bernie [Blu-ray] by Millennium Entertainment

Movie Details

Richard Linklater
Millennium Entertain
PG-13 (Parental Guidance)

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In the tiny, rural town of Carthage, TX, assistant funeral director Bernie Tiede was one of the town’s most beloved residents. He taught Sunday school, sang in the church choir and was always willing to lend a helping hand. Everyone loved and appreciated Bernie, so it came as no surprise when he befriended Marjorie Nugent, an affluent widow who was as well known for her sour attitude as her fortune. Bernie frequently traveled with Marjorie and even managed her banking affairs. Marjorie quickly became fully dependent on Bernie and his generosity and Bernie struggled to meet her increasing demands. Bernie continued to handle her affairs, and the townspeople went months without seeing Marjorie. The people of Carthage were shocked when it was reported that Marjorie Nugent had been dead for some time, and Bernie Tiede was being charged with the murder.


  • Matthew McConaughey
  • Jack Black
  • Shirley MacLaine


  • NTSC
  • Surround Sound
  • Widescreen

Editorial Review

The first of many enchanting title cards that show up as loose chapter markers in Richard Linklater’s sweet little movie about murder in a small Texas town reads, “What you’re fixin’ to see is a true story.” It sets the perfect down-home tone for the charming, if occasionally gruesome story of an East Texas funeral director named Bernie Tiede, whose sociable selflessness, empathetic demeanor, and guileless personality won him the friendship of the whole town of Carthage, especially the little old ladies. He even captivated the good graces of the meanest and richest old lady of them all, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), eventually becoming her business manager and constant companion. But even with the patience of Job and the compassion of Jesus, eventually Bernie couldn’t take it anymore and in a fit of pique shot her in the back four times then dumped her body in a freezer. That synopsis hardly seems the stuff of a lighthearted comedy that energizes a large ensemble of endearing characters. But in the hands of director Richard Linklater (who cowrote the script with Skip Hollandsworth, who originally reported the story for Texas Monthly magazine), the tale is simultaneously knee-slappingly funny and head-shakingly poignant. Jack Black stays dead-on and in character, with nary a trademark Black-ian wink to his audience. He is genuinely sympathetic as the adorable and unfailingly affable closeted gay man who devotes any spare moment not spent artistically fawning over the recently deceased to countless community service activities, like directing school musicals, coaching little league, helping roughnecks with their taxes, and making earnest googly eyes with Carthage’s blue-haired biddies. But the movie’s biggest success springs from its stylistic device of using ersatz interviews with characters and several non-actors who knew the real Bernie. These offbeat and articulate throwaways provide exposition about the man and his crime, which both remain entirely credible. It would play like incredible real life even without the bit of jailhouse vérité video that rolls under the credits, showing Jack Black interviewing the real Bernie Tiede. MacLaine’s appearance is relatively fleeting, but she embodies with delectable aplomb a mean, cranky old bag who’s too insufferable even for over-tolerant Bernie. Also adding to the wacky, pseudo-realistic charm is Matthew McConaughey as a quintessential Texas prosecutor. McConaughey’s dilemma is how to win the conviction of a confessed cold-blooded murderer the townspeople believe should go scot-free because he’s such a sweet man and his victim only got what she deserved. The mixture of interview segments and dramedic reenactments tiptoe gently but sometimes set off comedy booby traps in a very well-configured minefield of sweetness and dark. Though it’s a small and gentle film, Bernie packs a great deal of formal flair in breaking new ground. It’s understated and unremarkable, but there’s really never been anything quite like it. It’s also an unassuming career highlight for Black, McConaughey, MacLaine, and Linklater all around. –Ted Fry

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