Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Bernie

Year 8, Day 356 - 12/21/16 - Movie #2,498

BEFORE: Jack Black carries over again from "Nacho Libre" and it's a dark comedy scheduled for the darkest day of the year, aka the Winter Solstice.  Blessed Solstice to all my pagan readers, whoever you are.  

This is another one of those nearly unlinkable films, with only a few stars of note in it, and I did my big McConnaughey chain last year, and I think this one arrived in my collection too late to be a part of that.  But as I said last night, it does help me rescue "Nacho Libre" from the land of unlinkable films.  But I have yet to assess the damage for next year, how many other unlinkable films are still on the list?  And what lengths will I go to in order to connect to them?  


THE PLOT: In small-town Texas, an affable mortician strikes up a friendship with a wealthy widow, though when she starts to become controlling, he goes to great lengths to separate himself from her grasp.

AFTER: This is another strange film, it rambles quite a bit before it lands on a coherent narrative storyline, because the first half is mostly interviews with the residents of Carthage, TX, talking about Bernie Tiede, what their impressions of him were when he came to town, what kind of a guy he was, etc.  I know Linklater's big on these "real person" things, but I'm wondering if it this is best viewed as an extension of his documentary style, or if this was done to cover up a weak story in the first half.  Because you have to admit, if you fill the film with fake interviews, you don't have to worry about problems in the second act, and you can skip on a couple of the turning points, and go right on to the main conflict and confrontation.

The filmmaker also doesn't have to have coherent answers to some key questions - is Bernie gay?  Is he sleeping with the widow Nugent, or just her companion?  Does he work for her as an employee, or is the work being done "after hours"?  This way, all the people in town being "interviewed" simply need to speculate about these things, without having facts at hand.  It's very clever, but it's still a narrative cheat. 

Whatever else we don't know, what we do know is that Bernie met Mrs. Nugent at her husband's funeral, they struck up a friendship and became quite close, and then one day Mrs. Nugent was shot, and nine months later, her body was found in a freezer.  It's not really a spoiler, because the facts of the real case are already up on Wikipedia.  What becomes interesting in the case is the WHY of her being shot, rather than the HOW.  Yes, she was known as a bitter, even abusive person, but is that really what led to her death?  

She had already given Bernie control over her fortune, what part did that fact play in her demise?  And again, we're left wondering if they were just close friends, lovers, or employer/employee.  But everyone in the town of Carthage had come to know Bernie in the years previous, and no one had a bad word to say about him, despite speculation and idle gossip.   

But it does work as a portrait of what goes on in small-town America, and I think I learned the most from the description of the "5 regions of Texas".  We New Yorkers tend to lump everyone in Texas together, and think of them as all the same, but it's very interesting to learn that they're not.  The areas around Dallas, Houston and Austin apparently contain very different people with different mindsets. 

I had the occasion a few weeks back to meet a real murderer, though I didn't know it at the time.  I worked at a weekend animation art sale, and one of the attendees was an old friend of my boss, who had done some camera work for him way back in the 1980's, and then lost touch for a while, because he was serving time.  It was a very famous case out of Greenwich, CT, where this guy shot his neighbor's father while he swam in his pool, on the guy's birthday no less.  And the victim was the head of a very prominent NYC ad agency, I guess the guy I met wasn't right in the head, and after his neighbor had given him some drugs, came to believe that this family was trying to control his mind.  After the shooting, he drove himself to the police and turned himself in, before the cops had even known about the crime.  Honestly, that last bit seems like the craziest part. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to 60 years, but it was later determined that the judge had not properly defined "insanity" for the jurors, so he got a second trial, at which he pled guilty and then received 30 years. But with good behavior, that apparently got knocked down to 15.  That's the justice system for you.

The story of the real Bernie Tiede, following the events seen in this film, has a few similar twists to it, which you can look up on Wikipedia if you're so inclined.

Also starring Shirley MacLaine (last seen in "Artists and Models"), Matthew McConnaughey (last seen in "The Wedding Planner"), Brady Coleman, Richard Robichaux (last seen in "Boyhood"), Rick Dial (last seen in "Crazy Heart"), Brandon Smith, Larry Jack Dotson, Merrilee McCommas (also last seen in "Boyhood"), Matthew Greer, Gabriel Luna.

RATING: 4 out of 10 Broadway musicals  

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