Bernie Tiede wouldn’t hurt a fly. Unless someone nagged him incessantly for months on end and did everything in her power to make his life miserable.
Jack Black is “Bernie,” a charismatic funeral home director who kills the meanest woman in town when she frays his very last nerve. The film, available today on Blu-ray, proved a minor hit on the indie film circuit ($9-plus million). If the movie falls short of end-of-year award chatter, the margin of error will be miniscule at best.
Black is Bernie, a beloved undertaker in Carthage, Texas. who befriends a cranky widow (Shirley MacLaine) even though the whole town wishes she was dead. They get along famously at first, but Bernie soon realizes why her fan club has yet to induct its first member.
When Bernie makes the citizen’s dreams come true – and keeps her body on ice for several months – his entire life is held up for cross-examination.
Black is terrific in the title role, showcasing his fine singing voice and ability to dial down his antics when needed. Matthew McConaughey radiates small town smarts in a minor role, while MacLaine could master her part in her sleep and doesn’t disappoint.
The film’s master stroke may be in casting actual Carthage citizens who knew both Bernie and the grumpy widow. They provide a veritable Greek chorus, nailing down the signature colors applied by director Richard Linklater while giving “Bernie” a brash sense of truth-telling that gives the “Based on a True Story” label bite.
The Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and an extended chat with Black’s colleagues singing the star’s praises.
“He’s an actor … he could do a lot,” Linklater says of his star. It’s typical Hollywood back-slapping, but here it’s well earned.
“True Story to Film” lets co-screenwriter Skip Hollandsworth of Texas Monthly magazine share how he first heard of Bernie’s story.
“I walk into a story that’s part slapstick comedy, part small town gossip, part Shakespearean tragedy, all driven by this one incredibly gruesome act of violence that Bernie Tiede committed,” Hollandsworth says.
“It immediately struck me as a film,” adds Linklater, who ended up watching the latter stages of Tiede’s actual trial before committing to the project.
“The Gossips” lets the real town folk speak their minds on the delicate subject at hand, and we see their audition footage that proved to Linklater they could be a powerful force within the narrative framework.