The less you know about the storyline in the new film “Bernie” before you see it, the better. This clever, engaging and most unusual film is unlike anything you’ve seen before. It’s “surprise factor” is one of its strengths. It superbly combines a true story of a crime that happened about 15 years ago with a kind of documentary narrative and a superb ensemble cast.
Jack Black is ideal in the role of Bernie Tiede, an assistant funeral director in the small town of Carthage in east Texas. Upon his arrival in town, Bernie becomes quickly known as a model citizen and a friend to all. He greatly cares for his clients. He is a respected church member, teaches Sunday school and is frequently seen around town being thoughtful and helping people in need.
Shirley MacLaine plays Marjorie Nugent, a rich widow Bernie meets when he handles her husband’s funeral. Marjorie has few friends in town and treats everyone the same, badly. Bernie persists, however, and a type of friendship and love relationship develops between them.
Soon Bernie is Marjorie’s constant companion. They take exotic trips and live the life fantastic. Bernie starts spending Marjorie’s money like it’s his. He buys an airplane. Purchases cars for town’s people who need them. His generosity knows no limits. He even helps finance a new wing for the church.
But things begin to go south for Bernie and Marjorie, as she starts to treat Carthage’s favorite undertaker like he’s an indentured slave. Even the mild-mannered Bernie is struggling under her evil and inconsiderate personality.
Matthew McConaughey appears as a local prosecuting attorney. Numerous citizens of Carthage have roles, primarily as they are interviewed on camera about their remembrances of Bernie and Marjorie as the story progresses. But “Bernie” belongs to Jack Black, who proves in this film that he has some real abilities as a character actor. Also, stay after the film as the closing credits roll. There are some surprises you won’t want to miss.