‘Bernie’ DVD Review: Jack Black’s Best Performance Yet

Stephen Branson August 25, 2012 1
‘Bernie’ DVD Review: Jack Black’s Best Performance Yet
  • Jack Black
  • True Story
  • Documentary Feeling
  • Pacing
Director: Richard Linklater
Producers: Michael Bassick, William T. Conway, Donald Fox, Jack Gilardi Jr.
Writers: Skip Hollandsworth, Richard Linklater
Actors: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey
Music: Graham Reynolds
Cinematographer: Dick Pope
Editor: Sandra Adair


This article contains major spoilers. Consider yourself warned.


I‘ll be honest with you. I didn’t know that this film existed until a couple weeks ago. So when I heard that a film starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey had somehow been released without my knowledge, I had to find out what it was about. I was particularly intrigued after reading this quick, one sentence summary of the film: “In small-town Texas, the local mortician strikes up a friendship with a wealthy widow, though when he kills her, he goes to great lengths to create the illusion that she’s alive.” I was even more interested in the film after learning that it is based on a true story.

Plot Synopsis

In the tiny, rural town of Carthage, Texas, local assistant funeral director Bernhardt “Bernie” Tiede (Jack Black) 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 (Shirley MacLaine), an affluent widow who was as well known for her sour attitude as her fortune.

Bernie frequently traveled with Marjorie, had lunch with her and even managed her banking affairs. Marjorie quickly became fully dependent on Bernie and his generosity, and Bernie struggled to meet her increasing demands and sometimes abusive need for his attention. After growing weary of the emotional toll due to her possessiveness, persistent nagging and non-stop put-downs, Bernie murdered Marjorie, and continued to handle her affairs, with very little questioning from the townspeople.

The Good

Jack Black as Bernie Tiede

The past couple of years, Jack Black’s movies haven’t been ones that I have been interested in seeing. With The Big Year, Gulliver’s Travels, and Year One box office flops, it seemed like Black’s career was on a downward slope. I have to say, though, he really surprised me in Bernie. The film was directed by Richard Linklater, who also directed Black in School of Rock. But get this: Black’s character in Bernie is the total opposite of his character in School of Rock. That shows that Black can be a versatile actor. I think if he can take on more roles that can showcase his true acting talent, his films will rise in popularity again.

A “True Story” That’s Actually True

On the left: Shirley MacLaine and Jack Black.
On the right: The real Marjorie Nugent and Bernie Tiede.

Movies based on true stories are always hit and miss. How much of the “true story” are the filmmakers going to leave in and how many of the facts are going to be stretched. As far as I can tell from the online research I did on Bernie Tiede after watching the film, Bernie stays pretty true to the facts. There were a couple minor details that were changed to help the plot, such as which one of Marjorie Nugent’s grandchildren went with police to search Marjorie’s house, but overall, the film was true to the source material. The film was shot in a way that gave it a documentary feel, and Linklater used real residents of Carthage, Texas who knew the real Bernie Tiede and Marjorie Nugent to provide commentary on the events depicted in the film.

The Bad

The Pacing

Let’s face it. At times, real life can be boring. At times, movies based on real life can be boring. Even real life with a bit of fiction thrown in can be boring. Even though the casting was spot on and each star had their shining moment, the pacing of the movie was ridiculously slow. The film did utilize title cards to show the passing of time, but by the time “Two Years Later” came around, it felt like I had been watching the movie for two hours.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Bernie has its moments. It has chuckles, but it’s not laugh out loud funny which is a good thing. It’s not the best idea to turn the murder of an 81-year-old woman into a comedy. Bernie is not a monumentally big film with tons of action and non-stop thrills, but it’s an underrated yet entertaining film that deserves to be watched.

Buy It, Rent It, or Skip It

Jack Black fans should definitely go out and rent Bernie. Don’t expect it to be a typical Jack Black film, but watch this film with the realization that Black can be more than a loud slob telling fart jokes every five minutes. I think Bernie is a turning point in Black’s career.

‘Bernie’ Movie Trailer

    • jess

      finally got around to watching this on netflix and i thought the way it was done with the interviews of townspeople throughout the film was very charming. it definitely reflected linklater as the director, i love him!!

      it was fun and quirky, and i loved how during the credits it shows the real bernie talking with jack black!! when he sang his tenacious D side came out which was hilarious!

      i sort of thought getting a big star like mcconaughey was unnecessary, i probably would’ve liked someone who i didn’t recognize to tie in with all of the townspeople in the film who weren’t famous, i think it would’ve made it seem more genuine.

      overall i enjoyed the movie and would recommend it to jack black fans and non fans alike!

      plus great review- it got me to see the film :)