Published May 17, 2012In 1998, journalist Skip Hollandsworth wrote the article, "Midnight in the Garden of East Texas" for the Texas Monthly, outlining the murder of the curmudgeonly and elderly Marjorie Nugent (played here by Shirley Maclaine) by the stout, well-mannered and effete town mortician, Bernie Tiede (Jack Black).
Having befriended her in a cultural capacity, accompanying her to NYC for Broadway shows and fancy hotel visits, his patience for her intense and controlling disposition resulted in four bullets in her back with a .22 rifle and a protracted stay in a garage freezer while he lied about her whereabouts and spent her money, even going so far as to donate it to various town charities and organizations.
Linklater's adaptation of the story is a subdued, dark comedy of sorts, playing out like a less enthusiastic Drop Dead Gorgeous, interspersing interviews with real people and a mostly theatrical, superficial narrative that ostensibly acts out these interview findings. At times, the narrative devolves into camp mockery of Southern archetypes, finding humour in metaphors about possums and kissing cousins, which reinforces the seeming template critique, or analysis, of Bible belt beliefs, where class system jealousy and social performance prove more valuable – hypocritically – than upholding the Ten Commandments.
The overriding gag here is that the townsfolk were so pleased with Bernie's overall friendly disposition, generosity and propensity for musical theatre that they actually justified the murder of Marjorie by noting that she was a miserable bitch. It's an interesting perspective that reinforces the darkly comic tone of the film, mixing shocking, but amusing interviews with a narrative about a man whose self-serving motivations are masked by politeness.
Bernie never grasps the nature of its tone and structure, leaving the relationship between Bernie and Marjorie entirely on the surface, which only makes the amusingly candid nature of the interviews that much more intriguing. It almost seems like this particular cinematic experiment might have been better served up as a mildly satirical documentary. (Alliance)