You wouldn’t think that the cold-blooded murder of a defenseless old woman would make for big laughs, but that’s just one of the surprises found in Bernie, Richard Linklater’s wickedly enjoyable Texas comedy, out today on DVD and Blu-ray. And it’s all true — or, as the opening title card notes, “What you’re fixin’ to see is a true story.”
As the old saw goes, truth is stranger than fiction, and in ruminating about the pleasures of Bernie, we discovered that several of our favorite comedies were, in fact, based on real events. After the jump, a few thoughts on that film, and nine others based on (varying degrees of) true stories.
Richard Linklater became fascinated by the case of Bernie Tiede, the East Texas funeral director who became the companion of rich widow Marjorie Nugent and then murdered her, when he read Skip Hollandsworth’s article “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas” in a 1998 issue of Texas Monthly. Linklater thought there was a movie in there, and even attended the Tiede trial in 1999. But he wanted to wait until the time was right to direct the movie, and realized while making School of Rock with Jack Black that he might have his Bernie, once he’d aged a few more years. Linklater wrote the script with Hollandsworth, and they cooked up an interesting format to tell the story: they found the townspeople of Carthage, Texas to be so interesting, their speech so colorful and colloquial, that they made the film a narrative/documentary hybrid, intermingling scenes of Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey with interviews of the townsfolk who knew the real people they were playing. The result is a frisky, funny, enjoyable picture that beautifully captures its very specific time and place.