Titles announce that Bernie is a true story, and it is stranger than fiction in this dramatized narrative blended with documentary style interviews with actors and actual residents of Carthage, East Texas. It’s to Carthage that Bernie Tiede moves to work as an assistant funeral director. Bernie’s lecture on cosmetology for a corpse is a marvelous introductory scene. Quickly he ingratiates himself with the town’s residents. They love Bernie, as everyone from the minister to the church faithful, the farmers to the radio d.j. testify, despite what happens in 1996.
Then the cantankerous, ill-mannered Marjorie Nugent buries her husband, and Bernie reacts with his typical kindness. Soon he’s her assistant, financial manager, and servant. When he can’t endure another minute, he kills her and generously uses her income for deserving projects. Once the crime is discovered, district attorney Danny Buck Davidson prosecutes to the dismay of Carthage residents.
Linklater’s tongue-in-cheek, droll comedy sometimes surprises; at other times it announces itself and still packs a laugh. His earlier work, including Slacker, Dazed and Confused, and Waking Life, prove his creative approach to story and style on fine display here. If there’s a fault, it’s that no suspense builds, but who cares when considerable pleasure resides in watching the tale unfold and listening to a cross-section of the population as the incredulous realization sinks in—no one wanted Bernie tried. He is just too nice!
As Bernie, Jack Black gives the performance of his career. He inhabits Bernie, a solicitous, even obsequious man. Controlled, cautious, and pitch perfect, Black never breaks character. As the obnoxious Marjorie Nugent, Shirley MacLaine bravely refuses to be likable. And Matthew McConaughey already has the native Texas accent and attitude under complete control. One note: do not leave before the credits when the residents versus the actors are revealed plus a silent clip of the real Bernie with Jack Black. At Landmark's Tivoli Theatre.