One of the underappreciated aspects of the genius social commentary we call The Simpsons is the relationship between Homer and Ned Flanders. My fellow cynics will agree that some people simply enjoy life too much. Maybe it’s jealousy; maybe we know there’s a balance to life that must be achieved—and getting mad is a nice release. In any case, we all know a person who refuses to get mad at injustices or despondent following tragic events. There’s always something positive, right? Well, as Bernie shows us, everyone has a boiling point. The hard part is accepting it as a possibility.



Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) is the nicest man in small-town Texas. As the assistant funeral home director, his job is to comfort those who have lost loved ones and he is damn good at his job because he genuinely cares. Since opposites attract, Bernie befriends the town’s most evil woman, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). While the two become good friends, the town obviously has their rumors, but still think nothing but the best about their beloved Bernie. Predictably, the evil of Marjorie erodes Bernie’s saintly patience and he kills her. The story closes with the trial headed by the district attorney, Danny Buck (Matthew McConaughey), despite the townspeople’s unwavering support for Bernie.


The film is inspired by true events and plays out like a documentary. This adds a special element to Bernie that allows it to work in ways it could not have had the story been told in typical narrative fashion. One-on-one interviews with the townspeople give more insight into Bernie’s character than anything Black does, even though he shows surprising versatility. Initially, we only see snippets of Bernie’s good deeds and kindheartedness similar to many of the History Channel’s documentaries or dramatizations. Once the friendship between Bernie and Marjorie begins, however, the film transforms into more of a narrative as the interviews become a little more infrequent.


By this section of the film, the lack of interviewee commentary isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the black humor stemmed from the absurdity of the interviews more than the story itself. Think for a second of every Southern stereotype, add the ones about Texas and the Bible belt, and you’ve got the characters portrayed in the interviews. Without question, these are the best aspects of the film. Even the Matthew McConaughey interviews are hilarious. He embraces his native Texan pride and gives it all for Danny Buck.

Now, this is all well and good, but the purpose of the film was to tell Bernie Tiede’s story. This goal is achieved, but not in an entirely entertaining manner. Yes, it is moderately funny, and yes, Jack Black sings…a lot. Yet, there is no escaping a lingering feeling that something is missing from the story. Whether it’s more blatant humor or a more interesting turn at the Marjorie character, I can’t say. MacLaine is as ornery and curmudgeonly as you’d want, but the character is just boring. I would not be surprised if people cheered in the theater when she dies, which raises the ethical motif of the film.


No matter how certain or irrefutable it is that someone is a good person, can they still be excused for cold-blooded murder? To most of this small town, apparently the answer was an unequivocal yes. The law did not matter. Heck, even the fifth commandment is thrown out the window as long as Bernie sincerely repents for his wrongdoings! And in Texas no less! For shame.

So, returning to my original thought. If that person you know who doesn’t get mad, never speaks out of turn, helps those in need, and greets everyone with the same warmth and joy as if they were long lost friends, were to murder someone tomorrow, how would you react? Throw them in jail for life, lessen the sentence, or slap their wrist and call it even because they killed a Satanic spawn? Food for thought, but Bernie is definitely only for the curious.

  1. December 14th, 2012
  2. January 13th, 2013

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