Richard Linklater re-teams with Jack Black and Matthew McConaughey to bring a black comedy based on a true story.
The true story involves local assistant funeral director, Bernie Tiede, (Jack Black) a resident of Carthage, Texas, who is loved within the community. Bernie sings, sells caskets and comforts widows after their loved one has died. One such widow, Marjorie Nugent, (Shirley MacLaine) is hated amongst the locals of Carthage. Marjorie inherited her husband's wealth and is miserable to everyone she meets. Undeterred, Bernie feels the need to try and be a friend to Marjorie, eventually winning her over.
All that hard work to win Marjorie over, though, is for not as her angry attitude continues a she berates Bernie. For years, Bernie continues to be a friend to Marjorie, while she takes advantage of him and never gives an ounce of respect back. All of Marjorie's negativity takes a toll on Bernie and he eventually shoots and kills Marjorie.
As the residents of Carthage do not like Marjorie, no one really suspects or cares that Marjorie has not been around. District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson (Matthew McConaughey) is on the case and begins an investigation into what happened to Marjorie and trying to prosecute Bernie.
Richard Linklater's film is based on the true story that happened in 1996. Linklater infuses the film with interview segments from the actual residents of Carthage who speak about their love of Bernie and their hatred for Marjorie. Almost half of the film is filled with these interview snippets. Some of the residents and their descriptions are hilarious and some are thought-provoking due to their feelings about the situation.
These interview segments and the way the story is framed were the biggest detractors for the film, in my opinion. Just as the story with the actors gains momentum, we then cut back to the local residents offering their thoughts. This comes off as jarring, even though some of the comments are entertaining. It feels like Richard Linklater wanted to do a film based on this true story, but also wanted to make a documentary on the story by including the locals. Instead of doing one or the other, he felt the need to combine what he wanted and the film did not gel as it should have.
This is not to say the film is a total loss. The performances by Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine are very well done. Jack Black in particular deserves praise for his performance as Bernie Tiede. Yes, a lot of Bernie's performance requires singing, which Black can do, he also provides a sensitive (and effeminate) and caring performance.
On the other end of the spectrum, Matthew McConaughey's performance as the local district attorney does not seem to fit within the film. Whereas Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine blended into their performances, Matthew McConaughey's performance felt more like a caricature than a realized performance of a real person. As no footage of the real Danny Buck Davidson is shown within the film, I have to go off what I felt about Matthew McConaughey's performance.
Overall, this is a very uneven film, but anchored by 2 really good performances.