“Bernie” Laughs at
Murder in Texas
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
I knew Mike Levy, founder of Texas Monthly, the magazine that publishes great articles that sometimes get turned into movies. “Urban Cowboy” was one. “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas” was another.
What? – you don’t recognize the Skip Hollandsworth story about a mortician who murders an unpopular rich widow and gains the townspeople’s support when the DA tries to prosecute him. That’s because Hollandsworth teamed up with Austin-based filmmaker Richard Linklater to concoct a quirky little film that’s now titled “Bernie.”
You see, the mortician was named Bernie Tiede and this is his story. How after growing weary of Marjorie Nugent’s nagging, he offs her to no one’s notice. Months go by before the local DA uncovers her death.
For the cast, Linklater has chosen well. Jack Black takes on the role of the pudgy mortician named Bernie. Shirley MacLaine is the irritating victim. And Texas boy Matthew McConaughey plays the determined DA.
The film has caused quite a ruckus in Carthage, Texas, the town where the actual murder occurred. “You can’t make a dark comedy out of a murder,” complains District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson (portrayed in the film by McConaughey).
Davidson adds, “This movie is not historically accurate.”
“I’ve now seen the movie twice,” argues the dead widow’s nephew, “and, except for a few insignificant details, it tells the story pretty much the way it happened.”
Owners of the funeral home where Bernie worked refused to allow their name to be used in the film. “We felt we did not want the Hawthorn Funeral Home name or family name thought of in a dark comedy ... you always know locally these are real people and families so there is a sting.”
Linklater laughingly called the script boring. “But they’ll be funny characters,” he defends his vision for the movie. “I could just imagine the accents.”
Yep, I think my ol’ pard Mike Levy would be proud.