Whenever I see that a movie is “based on a true story” I wonder how little of said story actually made it onto the screen. With Richard Linklater’s Bernie, the real life material was just too good not to make it into the film. And what a hoot of a story it is! It is without a doubt, one of the funniest movies I have seen in a while, in large part because of the real townspeople of Carthage, Texas, who are interviewed throughout the film delivering a hilarious play-by-play of the unfolding events in their little town.

Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) is a funeral director who comes to the small town in East Texas and pretty much makes everyone fall in love with him. He is really the nicest guy in the world, singing in the church and the local musical theater, taking care of bereaved widows after funerals, and able to see the good in everyone. Which brings him into the orbit of the meanest woman in town, the very wealthy widow Marjorie Nugent played large by the wonderful Shirley MacClaine. He becomes her companion, they travel the world together, and he slowly becomes indispensable to her. But as much as she leans on him, it is not in a loving, kind way. The woman is a crazy, needy bee-yotch! And one day Bernie shoots her — four times, in the back — and stuffs her in the deep freeze.

In another film, you’d find out at this point that Bernie was a con man, just out for the old lady’s money. But in this movie, this is where the townspeople still believe in Bernie’s goodness and rally around him. He is even arrested while mentoring a kids’ sports team. Matthew McConaughey plays the hotshot local DA (not a stretch) who realizes that even with Bernie’s confession, he’ll never get a conviction in this town. (His mom has a role as one of the townspeople, too.) But what really makes this movie are the real-life, extremely eccentric, local gossip-mongers who knew Bernie and Marjorie telling the tale to camera. And they do not hold back.

This movie should appeal to all kinds of people. Jack Black is thankfully more subdued than usual, and it is perfect for the role. The character is funny because he is so unbelievable, but apparently real. Bernie is a grown-up, dark comedy for all ages and genders. It is not like any other movie I have seen and for me that is a plus. It is a strange hybrid true-crime docu-comedy. And it is very, very funny. I recommend it for everyone!

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