Jack Black, Richard Linklater Open LA Film Fest with True Tale Black Comedy Bernie
"Money makes the world go 'round, but it's not the answer to all your prayers," declared Jack Black at the opening night of the L.A. Film Fest, where he and screen legend Shirley MacLaine hit the red carpet arm in arm at the world premiere of Richard Linklater's new black comedy, Bernie. "It makes the world go 'round, sometimes the other way," quipped MacLaine. That's precisely the lesson at the heart of Bernie, based on the zany true story of a mortician who lived a well-loved existence in his small East Texas town -- until, that is, he committed a terrible crime.
To say more about the plot of Bernie could be considered a spoiler, though the real life story of Bernie Tiede is public knowledge. [So, fair warning: Spoilers ahead.] Tiede, a well-liked assistant funeral home director in the small town of Carthage, TX, was one of the most popular residents around -- kindly, generous, a devout church-goer, and, by most accounts, genuinely concerned with helping and befriending anyone and everyone, especially little old ladies.
Taking up with a wealthy 81 year-old local widow named Marjorie Nugent (played in the film by Shirley MacLaine), Tiede became her companion, then -- according to the film, at least -- their relationship turned abusive, his role becoming something akin to indentured servitude. Her increasing demands and emotional cruelty led to a breaking point, and, pushed to the edge, Tiede killed Nugent... and went on pretending she was still alive for months until his arrest.
The kicker: Tiede was so well-liked and had done so many good deeds by misappropriating Nugent's fortune, nobody in Carthage wanted him to be punished too much for his crimes.
All of the above was documented in a 1998 Texas Monthly article by journalist Skip Hollandsworth, which inspired Texas native Linklater to follow the tale. He optioned it and even attended Tiede's murder trial, co-wrote a script with Hollandsworth, cast Black to play the complex and effeminate man, and recruited many actual Carthage residents to retell their testimonies of the affair on film. The result is a blend of quirky character-based comedy, courtroom drama, and gossipy documentary that works surprisingly well, built around the most fascinatingly complex character Black has played, maybe ever.
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