‘Bernie’ transcends Southern stereotypes, thanks to performances by pros and locals
by Donalevan Maines
A commentary track on the DVD release of 2012’s surprise movie hit Bernie sounds counterintuitive. After all, the movie is framed by the spirited tattling of “actual citizens of Carthage, Texas,” who narrate the true story of a sweet Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell gay man who seems to roll merrily along—until one day he snaps.
Actually, several of those “actual citizens” are played by Houston actress Sylvia Froman (see sidebar) and the husband-wife duo of Charles Bailey and Jo Perkins. They are so convincing that they blend right in with the non-actors who help tell the tale with such genuine ingenuity that you might actually believe that director Richard Linklater summoned only stars Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey from Hollywood.
Black is a revelation as the courtly charmer who commits a crime that almost everyone is willing to forgive—except for McConaughey’s character, who moves the action to nearby San Augustine. If Carthage seems like Mayberry, San Augustine is straight out of Deliverance.
Bernie is based on an article that Skip Hollandsworth wrote in the January 1988 issue of Texas Monthly called “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil in East Texas.” It’s probably my favorite “little movie” since I Love You, Phillip Morris, last year’s gay romance inspired by a Houston Pressfeature story. While that Jim Carrey-Ewan MacGregor comedy was criminally ignored at awards time, Black should be competitive for a Golden Globe in the category of best actor in a comedy or musical, even against actors in Les Misérables. He’s that good—and the movie is a keeper, too.
Bernie ran more than two months at the River Oaks movie theater. Billed as “a story so unbelievable it must be true,” Bernie’s release on DVD is set for August 21. Bonus features include a “making of” featurette, a special performance of Black singing the hymn “Amazing Grace,” and a featurette called “The Gossips,” about those real-life townspeople of Carthage, including interviews and auditions.
Available August 21 from Millennium Entertainment (millenniumentertainment.me).
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.