Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine Will Star in the Coprse-Centric Richard Linklater Comedy BERNIE

     August 6, 2010

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Taking a look down Jack Black’s resume, School of Rock is the most critically acclaimed movie that the comic actor ever toplined.  So, in what has the makings of a savvy career move, Black will reunite with Rock director Richard Linklater for the dark comedy Bernie.  According to THR, the legendary Shirley MacLaine will likewise get top billing with a role that… heck, I’m gonna call it now: this will be her memorable performance since Terms of Endearment.  Maybe even The Apartment.  Here’s a brief plot outline:

Bernie is set in the small town of Carthage, Texas and follows a Renaissance man-community leader-mortician Bernie (Black) who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a wealthy but very particular widow (MacLaine).  When he kills her, he goes to great lengths to maintain the illusion that she is still alive.”

Any titular/thematic relation to Weekend at Bernie’s is (unfortunately) coincidence, as the script appears to be inspired by the life of funeral home assistant Bernhardt “Bernie” Tiede, instead.  Details after the jump.

Jack Black

Bleeding Cool has unearthed the 1998 Texas Monthly piece (“Midnight in the Garden of East Texas“) that inspired Linklater to write the script with article author Skip Hollandworth.  Here’s an informative excerpt:

“This past August, however, Carthage captured the attention of the entire country when the news broke that the town’s richest and snootiest widow, 81-year-old Mrs. Marjorie Nugent, had been found in the bottom of a large freezer in her home. What made the story peculiar was that Mrs. Nugent had been dead for almost nine months before people began searching for her. What made the story truly bizarre was the way many of the townspeople rallied around the 39-year-old man who had admitted to killing her and stealing her money — the soft-spoken, chubby-cheeked Bernie Tiede, the former assistant funeral director at Hawthorn Funeral Home who had gotten close to Mrs. Nugent when he supervised her husband’s funeral.”

At a screening of Linklater’s Fast Food Nation last month, the director talked a bit about Bernie, though we had no idea how coy he was being at the time.  Via The Playlist:

“[My next project is] a film I wrote about ten years ago.  It’s set in a little town of Huntsville, East Texas, kind of a little black comedy. It’s my Fargo in East Texas, where I group up, so it’s crazy local with fifty characters. It’s about a funeral home assistant who befriends this old lady. It’s kind of a true crime story.”

Plenty of filmmakers invoke Fargo, but it sounds genuine to me after Linklater’s frequent demonstration of his Texan roots.  Plus, I think “It’s kind of a true crime story” would make a fantastic tagline.

richard_linklaterLinklater can always be counted on to put something interesting out in the world, and even at this early stage, I can’t imagine Bernie will be an exception.  Gotta love that Oscar-winner Shirley MacLaine is willing to sport corpse makeup for half the movie, and we’ve already touched on the fact that Linklater seems like the filmmaker most capable of harnessing Black’s manic energy for good.

Filming is set to begin in October, so hopefully we’re looking at a short turnaround time from announcement to release.  You may recall that Linklater is currently in the middle of a thirteen-year project with Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette; Black will next be seen in Fox’s 3D adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels, which opens December 22nd.

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