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Not your usual Bernie. Also not your usual Jack Black.Bernie
is a 2011 film that presents the mostly-true story of Bernie Tiede (Jack Black
... yes, that
Jack Black), a funeral director in Carthage, TX, who befriends the local battle-axe, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley Maclaine
), at her husband's funeral, becoming her closest confidant and companion, but eventually becoming her verbally abused pet and slave
. At his wits' end, he snaps
and kills her with a rabbit gun
... and then proceeds to keep up appearances
, hoping no one will notice the shut-in curmudgeon isn't around much. After being found out, the local DA finds it difficult to gain a conviction for a remorseful Bernie
who is loved universally by the townspeople, and instead, tries him in a more disinterested county.
The film, directed by Richard Linklater
and written by Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth, is peppered heavily with clips of interviews of the real-life inhabitants of Carthage who remember Bernie.
This film contains examples of the following tropes:
- Anachronism Stew: Bernie uses Majorie's iPhone in what is supposed to be 1994. That Apple notebook Bernie is using looks pretty modern also.
- Affably "Evil": Bernie is exceptionally affable, and only "evil" in that he killed Marjorie, though nearly everyone forgives him (and hated her).
- Amazing Freaking Grace: Could one make a movie about a Texas funeral director without it?
- Ambiguously Gay: Bernie himself. Danny Buck seemed to think he was, at least.
- Amoral Attorney: A marginal case with Danny Buck playing up class differences in his questioning of Bernie for a jury of hicks to pursue a indictment of First Degree Murder without evidence of premeditation. However, the film makes it clear that he was concerned that Bernie may be acquitted in spite of having confessed because of his popularity.
- Asshole Victim: Marjorie is universally despised, mean, vindictive and probably racist. When she finally meets someone who can stand being around her, she basically tries to take possession of him and makes his life miserable. Almost nobody in the town seems to care that she's dead, and most are much more concerned with what will happen to Bernie.
- Based on a True Story: Co-written by Skip Hollandsworth, who wrote the original Texas Monthly article. The film does omit the significant portion of Carthage's population who was howling for Bernie's blood after he was caught.
- Bang Bang BANG: Averted. The gun even sounds a little weak for a .22, though it is possible to have a .22 that makes about as much noise as a BB gun. The lack of noise helps paint the crime as not being pre-meditated.
- Blatant Lies: Marjorie's granddaughter claims she was "close" to her, despite not having spoken to her for years after suing her for her money.
- Break the Cutie: One of the more odd examples. Bernie, who is well loved by the community, is beaten down by Marjorie until he finally snaps.
- Character Tic: The way Marjorie eats refried beans is so ridiculous that Bernie himself asks her to stop. It may ultimately serve as his Berserk Button. To her credit, Shirley Maclaine manages to look extremely obnoxious when doing it that even the audience wants to make her stop.
- Chekhov's Gun: The "varmint gun" they use to shoot armadillos is later used by Bernie, but on a different hard-shelled nuisance.
- Common Nonsense Jury/A Hero To His Hometown: Averted in that Danny Buck, in a rare move for a prosecutor, manages to get a change of venue to another county, because he can't find anyone in the original county that would convict Bernie, despite the fact that he confessed.
- On the other hand, he was convicted of first degree murder, with little or no evidence to prove premeditation. One of the Carthage townsfolk suggests that jury were just hicks who saw Bernie as too effete and cultured. such as when he is lured into properly pronouncing Les MisÚrables when the play's name is properly pronounced throughout its advertising and the national mainstream media.
- Creative Closing Credits: More interview clips with residents, including an original song about Bernie (the credits for the song go past while he is playing it). Also, a Photo Montage of the real Bernie and Marjorie, and a video clip of of Jack Black meeting the real Bernie.
- Dead Womans' Chest: Bernie hides Marjorie's body in her meat freezer.
- Description Cut: Davidson tells a scrum of reporters that "we may be dealing with a deranged killer". Cut to Bernie giving a pep talk to a Little League team.
- Everyone Owns A Mac: See Anachronism Stew above.
- Everything Is Big in Texas: Averted in the usual Hollywood sense, but the film is still very very small town Texas. Most of the shots are littered with typical Texas knick-knacks (cast iron lone star symbols, saddles, longhorn figurines, religious paraphernalia). The residents dress and talk as if they live there (because they do). One man is seen drinking a Lone Star beer. Another has a "Come and Take It" hat. Even the church scenes are depicted accurately without being over the top. The only actor who could be guilty of being anywhere near stereotypical is Matthew McConaughey, who is from Texas anyway.
- Expository Theme Tune/Murder Ballad: One of the townspeople sings an original song about Bernie and Marjorie over the credits.
- Fag Hag: Marjorie. Maybe. The residents of Carthage aren't sure just what went on with Marjorie and Bernie and the film doesn't take a stand either way.
- For Want of a Nail: If Bernie had kept up with previously agreed payments with Marjorie's estranged family after he killed her, they would not have been so motivated to investigate her whereabouts for a while yet and push the police to search her house.
- Freakier Than Fiction: The movie's tagline. "A story so unbelievable it must be true."
- Gold Digger: Hinted at with Bernie, who keeps paying social calls to the widowed old ladies of the town until he hits pay dirt with Marjorie.
- The Grim Reaper: Personified in a presentation for the high school about the dangers of unsafe driving. Later, DA Davidson calls Bernie an "Angel of Death".
- Hazy Feel Turn: Marjorie, somewhat, when she realizes that Bernie is the only person who is nice to her. However, she soon reverts back to form and dominates Tiede until he is driven to murder her.
- Implausible Deniability: Some of the townspeople refused to believe Bernie killed Marjorie, despite the evidence and his confession.
- In the Back: Poor Marjorie.
- It Is Pronounced Tro PAY: The DA lures Bernie into this with "Less Miserables." It can be inferred that the DA knew how to say it, but was deliberately using Everything Sounds Sexier in French to paint Bernie as a high-class snob in the eyes of the jury.
- Jekyll & Hyde: Discussed by Bernie, who is trying in a roundabout way to talk about his crime. The lady he's talking to thinks he's talking about his homosexuality.
- Mood Whiplash: After Bernie kills Marjorie, it cuts to him performing in a jaunty number from The Music Man.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Name checked.
- Mysterious Past: Bernie arrives in Carthage with no backstory whatsoever, except that he has experience in funeral homes and is an excellent mortician.
- Only Sane Man: Danny Buck, at least in his own eyes.
- Passed Over Inheritance: Marjorie re-writes her will to bequeath everything to Bernie. Her estranged children are none too thrilled.
- The Perfect Crime: Bernie's lawyer inverts this to play down implications that Marjorie's killing was a calculated pre-meditated murder and not a remorseful crime of passion.
- Poor Man's Porn: Buck observes that Bernie subscribes to a men's fitness magazine without being very athletic himself; the implication is that the magazine serves as his beefcake porn.
- Pot Calling The Kettle Black: The simple townsfolk of Carthage don't have many nice things to say about the simple townsfolk of San Augustine.
- Resignations Not Accepted: When Bernie and Marjorie get in an argument, Bernie begins to drive off, insisting that he can't deal with her when she's not making sense. As he heads down the long driveway, Marjorie spitefully grabs the remote control for the front gate and closes it before Bernie can get out. This marks the beginning of Bernie feeling trapped.
- Rich Bitch: Marjorie is a deeply unpleasant person.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: The attitude of nearly everyone in Carthage. Sure, technically Bernie's guilty of murder, but he's such a great guy and the victim was so terrible that it's clear no local jury would ever convict him. It gets to the point where, in an incredibly unorthodox move, the prosecutor moves for a change of venue because the accused is too beloved.
- Shoot the Armadillo: One of the final acts to kill audience sympathy for Marjorie was trying to force Bernie to shoot an intruding, but cute looking, armadillo who doesn't look like it is doing anything seriously damaging.
- Shout-Out: To Les MisÚrables, during the DA's questioning of Bernie. Very significant, as Les Mis also concerns the story of a man (Jean Valjean) ostensibly doing good deeds after breaking the law, as well as a man of the law (Inspector Javert) who refuses to see the lawbreaker's situation in anything other than black and white.
- It's never said outright but it's clear that Bernie and his theater group are rehearsing for a production of The Music Man.
- Silent Partner: One of the townsfolk never says anything, but constantly cracks up at every cynical thing her friend says.
- Speak Ill of the Dead: Pretty much every single one of the town's inhabitants, who are all being interviewed well after Marjorie's death.
- Trophy Wife: Gender-reversed with Bernie and Marjorie.
- Unreliable Narrator: We see the murder committed, which was in private in the victim's residence, and the only person who can describe the event is Bernie Teide himself, who has every incentive to slant his story to make himself as sympathetic as possible.
- A more meta example. Linklater mixed scripted interviews with real-life interviews so that it becomes hard to tell what's real and what's not.
- Video Credits
- Villain Protagonist
- Villain with Good Publicity: It seems like Bernie could have gotten elected mayor.
- Wine Is Classy: Another way the DA tries to paint Bernie as a high-class snob. Bernie knows that (gasp) white wine goes with fish.
- You Are Not Alone: Bernie's effect on Marjorie.