Jack Black plays Bernie Tiede, well-loved assistant funeral director in a small Texas town. Shirley MacLaine plays Marjorie Nugent, wealthy, cranky, unpopular widow. The way their paths cross is the meat of Bernie, a dark comedy based on a true story. The movie seems far-fetched, but, according to Marjorie’s nephew, the outlandish details were “ripped from the headlines“.
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.
Black gives one of his best performances to date, showing us the melancholy and heart in a man somehow driven to murder. MacLaine is an ideal choice as the cranky, crazy old codger fated to be folded into a freezer. The one weak link in casting is Matthew McConaughey playing a Texas lawyer (shocker, McConaughey cast as a lawyer!) set with the unpopular task of prosecuting the town’s favorite resident.
Interspersed throughout the movie, we get bits of local residents (some of them actual residents who knew the real Tiede & Nugent) talking about the couple and the case. It’s a device that can be cheesy if poorly executed, but it works quite well here.
Despite the subject matter, this movie will appeal to just about everyone in my circle. Even those who you wouldn’t expect to get a chuckle from a murder.
Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 92%; Audience 76%