Jack Black brings his comic timing and hidden talent to the lead role of 'Bernie,' a dark comedy based on a true life story.
Richard Linklater's "Bernie" is a disquieting black comedy about a real-life enigma. Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) was by all accounts an upright citizen. An assistant funeral director in Carthage, Texas, he sang in the choir and in local musical productions, taught Sunday school, and was kind to old ladies.
One of those old ladies, the wealthy heiress Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), known as Marge, had a reputation as a first-class sourpuss. She was so flummoxed by Bernie's attentions that she transformed him into her constant companion, business manager, and all-around helpmate.
In 1997, after Marge had not been seen in public for nine months, it was revealed that gentle-souled Bernie had shot Marge four times in the back in her home and kept her corpse in an ice chest in the garage.
Linklater, collaborating with coscreenwriter Skip Hollandsworth (who wrote a 1998 Texas Monthly piece about the murder), presents this story in all its glittering ambiguity. Was Bernie a crook out to score Marge's money? Was he was genuinely fond of her? Did he even know what his motives were in currying her favor?
Linklater lets the real-life Carthage citizens speak for themselves about the case. I like the fact that he doesn't poke fun at anybody in this film or make us feel superior to them. In a "Reds"-like structure, the townsfolk act as on-camera witnesses. It's an oddly disjointed tactic – real people are commenting on a real crime in the context of a fictional narrative – but it works because everything else about this story is equally strange.