2011, PG-13, 110 min. Directed by Richard Linklater. Starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey, Brady Coleman, Richard Robichaux, Rick Dial, Sonny Carl Davis.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 27, 2012

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.

Black plays Bernie, a devout Methodist and even more dedicated mortician's assistant in the tiny East Texas backwater. He's such a chipper, benevolent man that when he manages, against all odds, to befriend his opposite number – the loveless and loathed-by-all Marjorie Nugent (MacLaine, in another standout performance), the richest skinflint in town, who is a widow much older than Bernie – it's something of a major miracle. At first friends, then travel companions, then perhaps more, this bizarre May-December "romance" comes to a startling conclusion that involves Matthew McConaughey devouring scenery whole as local District Attorney Danny "Buck" Davidson. I'll say no more for those who are unaware of the facts since Hollandsworth, who co-scripted with Linklater, published his article way back in 1997 and memories are short.

Linklater intercuts Tiede's story with fond reminiscences of Tiede from actual Carthage residents (and a handful of familiar Texan character actors), only adding to the film's pleasantly oddball vibe, which intersects at the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Main Street, USA. I'm not sure how it'll play in Peoria, but I can pretty much guarantee it'll be held over in Carthage itself, so eloquently does it capture the peculiar rhythms of life and death in small-town Texas.

See “Texas Two-Step,” April 27, for a joint interview with Linklater and McConaughey.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Bernie
From the Vaults: 'Bernie' Kills
From the Vaults: 'Bernie' Kills
Linklater's latest delivers his biggest opening weekend

Marjorie Baumgarten, April 29, 2012

AFS Hosts Early Look at 'Bernie'
AFS Hosts Early Look at 'Bernie'
Violet Crown will screen Linklater's latest on 4/26

Kimberley Jones, April 13, 2012

More Richard Linklater
Following Linklater's <i>Dream</i>
Following Linklater's Dream
Richard Linklater: dream is destiny finally opens in Austin

Josh Kupecki, Aug. 28, 2016

That Eighties Film
That Eighties Film
How Everybody Wants Some!! re-created history

Richard Whittaker, April 7, 2016

More Richard Linklater Films
Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood
Linklater’s charming animated daydream of space race Houston

Trace Sauveur, March 25, 2022

Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Cate Blanchett steals away with what’s left of her dreams in Linklater’s coming-of-middle-age comedy

Marjorie Baumgarten, Aug. 16, 2019

More by Marc Savlov
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
The Prince is dead, long live the Prince

Aug. 7, 2022

Green Ghost and the Masters of the Stone
Texas-made luchadores-meets-wire fu playful adventure

April 29, 2022


Bernie, Richard Linklater, Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey, Brady Coleman, Richard Robichaux, Rick Dial, Sonny Carl Davis

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle