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Three must-see Richard Linklater films: 'Bernie'

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"Bernie" (2011)

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Continuing our look back at Richard Linklater films, here is another movie taking place in the great state of Texas. This character study - based upon a real-life Lone Star state story - certainly steps into bizarre criminal, but also comical, territory.

“Bernie” (2011) 4 / 5 stars - “What you’re fixin’ to see is a true story.”

These words appear on the screen at the beginning of director Richard Linklater’s film, and after watching the 1 hour 39 minute movie about the real-life exploits of Bernie Tiede, it certainly is difficult to believe.

Jack Black plays Bernie, a very odd, but extremely well-liked, 30-something mortician living in Carthage, Texas.

A jack of all trades (pardon the pun), Bernie not only performs his job quite well, but also directs local plays, works with little league teams and even hosts events like the Mrs. Senior Carthage Beauty Pageant.

Unofficially deemed the most popular person in Carthage, one day Bernie begins accompanying a 70 or 80-something widow, Marjorie Nugent (Shriley MacLaine).

Due to the huge age disparity, dating seems out of the question, but the difference in their basic personalities makes this match a real puzzler.

Bernie might be a “real people person”, but one Carthage resident summed up Marjorie as “a mean old hateful bitch”, and Linklater tells this story like a true-to-life mockumentary told in flashback.

While a few Hollywood stars play the leads, Linklater turns on his camera and interviews actual Carthage residents who knew both Bernie and Marjorie.

The combination of Black’s and MacLaine’s performances mixed in with the frank discussion of their relationship by the actual locals, make for hilarious black comedy theatre.

While one resident says the do-gooder Bernie has “the ability to make the world seem kind," another person says Marjorie was “born old with a prune face.”

As a viewer, the film really challenges.

It plays with tones, and as well as dances between movie-making and reality.

With almost all aspects of this film feeling strange, it’s difficult to settle into a comfortable movie experience.

This is especially true when a serious crime becomes part of the narrative.

It’s a good thing Panola County District Attorney Danny Buck (Matthew McConaughey) is on the case.

With a white cowboy hat, oversized glasses and a stark seriousness, he’s out to make sense of the nonsensical.

If Bernie has committed a crime, almost all of the townsfolk don’t believe it.

Danny Buck thinks otherwise, and McConaughey fights a hilarious uphill battle to convince the people of Carthage to see his point of view, or what some people call, the facts.

The fact is “Bernie” is a most unique and funny take on the oddball and disturbing account of the events in East Texas during the late 1990s.

“What you’re fixin’ to see is a true story.”

Follow me on Twitter: @MitchFilmCritic

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