Film review | Bernie – Jack Black’s small-town mortician is a marvel in tragi-comic true story

Jack Black in BERNIE

In an inspired stroke of casting, Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine play sweet and sour in Bernie, an offbeat comedy based on a stranger-than-fiction true story.

Texas funeral director Bernie Tiede (Black) is cheerful, public-spirited and beloved by everyone in the small-town of Carthage; wealthy widow Marjorie Nugent (MacLaine) is crabby, mean and universally loathed. Even so, the pair become unlikely bosom buddies, inseparable companions at local functions and on luxury holidays abroad, until Marjorie’s ill-temper finally causes Bernie to snap…

Director Richard Linklater tells this tall tale with cockeyed charm, giving the unfolding events a darkly comic fascination while beautifully capturing the eccentricity of small-town life. The interviews with real Carthage residents that punctuate the narrative add to the film’s quirky mood, but Linklater’s real trump cards are his stars.

Black is a marvel as Bernie, reining in his usual manic persona to give his prissy, camp character an endearing sweetness but leaving what really makes him tick a puzzle. MacLaine, in a more typical role, is excellent, too, and there’s good support from Matthew McConaughey as the ambitious district attorney who becomes Bernie’s nemesis.

In cinemas from Friday 26th April.


To activate the sound in the trailer: hold your cursor over the screen to reveal the control panel and click on the volume control in the bottom right-hand corner.