What happens when someone so caring, considerate and beloved by his community, who has helped so many people through rough periods in their lives, gets together with the least liked and hated person in the community? A shocking tragic comedy that leaves a community divided in more ways than one.
I had a great time watching this movie, which is probably one of the most unusual films I’ve seen. You think you’re watching a romantic comedy until you realize what you’ve actually been watching is …well, let’s just say, far more interesting.
A kindhearted stranger arrives in a small Texas town to work at the local funeral home and quickly ingratiates himself among its citizens, especially the widows of the town, with his unabashed positive and compassionate attitude. Bernie tries to be all things to all people and genuinely loves helping folks and makes no judgments even when confronted with the most cantankerous and reviled citizen of the town of Carthage.
This has got to be one of the most outrageous films I’ve ever seen. This movie is part documentary and part drama but you don’t realize that until the credits role. The less you know about this film the better you will enjoy it. So stop reading now if you don’t want to spoil the surprise. I knew this was based on a true story going into it, but it still amazed me to see that the actual people from the town had been such a big part of the film.
Done partly in a reality show style, the town’s people tell us everything we know about the likeable Bernie Tiede, played by Jack Black, through interview footage, and in-between their commentary we watch as the drama unfolds. It all seems a little too rosy and something in the back of your mind is telling you that Bernie is a little too generous for his own good.
Things slowly become more sinister and the story gets stranger as it goes along, until you just can’t stop laughing at the absurdity of it. And then when you think you’ve just seen a wonderful tragic comedy with one of the best performances by Jack Black, it’s revealed that we’ve been watching the real citizens of the town as they recount their own experiences. At that point the audience is just in shock and amazement and realize that the adage ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ was never more apt than in this hilarious film.
Texas born, Independent filmmaker Richard Linklater, who is known for his innovative techniques and pushing the boundaries of film by mixing genres as in Waking Life (2001), A Scanner Darkly (2006) and Fast Food Nation (2006), does a magnificent job of seamlessly integrating interview footage with dramatized footage, making the movie seem just like a comedy about typical gossiping small town characters, while revealing the darker side of human nature.
It all pays off in the end with a surprisingly unusual twist and some poignant revelations about the American justice system and the darker nature of a quiet and friendly community.