Dark comedy explores unlikely protagonist in East Texas town


“What you’re fixin’ to see is a true story.”

Richard Linklater’s film “Bernie” marks the Texas-born director’s triumphant return to the Lone Star state. Not since the cult hit “Dazed and Confused” has Linklater presented a more lovingly quirky depiction of Texas life. Linklater film veterans Jack Black and Matthew McConaughey star in this captivating modern southern gothic that proves truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

Set in the self-proclaimed “Best small town in Texas,” the film chronicles three fateful years in the life of the most popular man in town, Bernie Tiede (Black). Bernie’s happy-go-lucky nature and angelic singing voice greatly contrast with his career as a mortician, while simultaneously making him the best in the business. After planning the funeral of Mr. Nugent, the richest man in town, Bernie befriends the grieving Mrs. Nugent (played by seasoned actress Shirley Maclaine). The unconventional duo’s friendship takes a dark turn when elderly Mrs. Nugent become possessive of her only friend and begins subjecting Bernie to constant emotional abuse. One day, the abuse inflicted on kindhearted Bernie crosses a line, leaving District Attorney Danny Buck Davison (McConaughey) to sort out the gory details.

The movie is shot as a faux-documentary; talking head interviews with the town folk of Carthage, Texas guide the plot. While this unique narration technique could potentially be distracting, the town folk interviewed in “Bernie” prove so genuine and entertaining that they nearly steal the show, while greatly contributing to the film’s recurring theme of small town gossip.

While the subject matter is violent and can even be downright gruesome at times, any time a sequence becomes too unsettling or disturbing it is immediately, and humorously, juxtaposed by a jump cut to Bernie preforming an elaborate and entertaining musical number. Whether it is with the local church, community theatre or at a funeral, Jack Black’s unexpectedly able vocal performances will have fans of Tenacious D and Broadway theatre alike sharing an unexpected appreciation for this movie.

“Bernie” is a special kind of film, so delightfully off-beat and morbidly humorous that if it were not a true story, one might think the story was straight from the writings of Faulkner or O’Conner.

You would be hard-pressed to find a film as uniquely witty, savagely hilarious and downright entertaining anywhere else on Netflix.