COMIC DRAMA; 1hr 39min
STARRING: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey
True lives: MacLaine and Black
“Who is Bernie?” the opening credits of director Richard Linklater’s true story aptly enquire. Who indeed? To the good people of Carthage, East Texas, assistant funeral director Bernie Tiede (Black) is charismatic, virtuous and beloved, unlike lemony widow Marjorie Nugent (MacLaine), acerbically described by one local lady as “just a mean old, hurtful bitch !”
But by no means immune to portly, sweet-talking Bernie’s honeyed charm. The community darling and the reviled shrew become an inseparable marriage of opposites, living the high life on her bags and bags of money until 1996, when the tables are dramatically turned.
Told in gabby flashbacks, largely by actual Carthaginians (all to-camera naturals), with Black in excellent, intuitive fettle, a contemptuous MacLaine waxing witchy and McConaughey chipping in as hard-nosed, showboating local DA Danny “Buck” Davidson, Bernie the movie combines a ten-gallon hat tip to folksy Texan ways with a fruity slice of backwoods life and a discerning portrait of a confoundingly lovable man. It’s Theatre of the Absurd that dares to be individual and goes down gangbusters at every changeable step.