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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

May 16, 2012 at 8:41 AM

The real story behind “Bernie”

(By the way, I caught up with the season closer of “Smash” last night, and I think this show has missed a great opportunity: Why not just have Ellis play Marilyn? Next season? Please?)
(Spoiler alert: If you want to see “Bernie” with no idea of its subject matter, read no further. But do note that I knew all of this before seeing “Bernie,” and it didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the film at all.)
Richard Linklater’s dark comedy “Bernie,” opening here this weekend, stars Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine and is based on a true story: A mild-mannered funeral director beloved in his small Texas town shot and killed an elderly woman, with whom he’d had a close friendship for several years. The story gets stranger from there, and if you watch the movie you’ll wonder how much of it is embellishment. People don’t really behave like this, do they? According to journalist Joe Rhodes, whose Aunt Marge was the elderly woman in question — yes, they do. In a fascinating piece in the New York Times magazine several weeks ago, he says that the movie pretty much got it right:

There are little things in “Bernie” that aren’t exactly true, bits of dialogue, a changed name here and there. But the big things, the weirdest things, the things you’d assume would have to be made up, happened exactly as the movie says they did. The trial lawyers really did wear Stetsons and cowboy boots and really were named Danny Buck Davidson and Scrappy Holmes. Daddy Sam’s barbecue and bail bonds, just a few blocks from the courthouse in Carthage (population: 6,700), really does have a sign that says, “You Kill It, I’ll Cook It!” And they really did find my Aunt Marge on top of the flounder and under the Marie Callender’s chicken potpies, wrapped in a Lands’ End sheet. They had to wait two days to do the autopsy. It took her that long to thaw.

Do read the whole story if you’ve got time today. And the movie’s good too.

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