“Bernie,” Richard Linklater’s colorful, fact-based film about a murder in East Texas, goes at one of the more difficult genres- true-crime comedy- and pulls it off nearly flawlessly. This is one of the year’s more enjoyable films.
The film, which was released in theaters this past spring, is based on a Texas Monthly magazine article by Skip Hollandsworth, who ended up co-writing the movie. “Bernie” is the story of the 1996 murder of Carthage, Tex., extremely rude socialite Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) by her frequent companion (Jack Black), the Bernie of the title. A gay, church-going funeral director, Bernie was so popular in the town, and victim so unpopular, that no one in Carthage could believe that he was guilty of the crime.
There’s a “Fargo”-like air to the proceedings, as Linklater emphasizes local color to the point where most of the exposition is provided by real citizens of the town, playing themselves. There’s also Matthe McConaughey as a local D.A., who took the rare step of requesting a change of venue because the defendant was too well-liked to be convicted.
The director is at his best with these small, human tales, especially the ones set in Texas such as “Slacker” and “Dazed and Confused.”
Black dials things way, way down from his usual screen persona, playing a truly original character, and he even lends his Tenacious D pipes to a couple of musical numbers. And McConaughey continues this year’s hot streak, which has been enough to make us forget about all those terrible Kate Hudson movies.
The true story is crazy enough, as told again in a recent New York Times Magazine article; it’s the sort of thing that couldn’t possibly become an indie movie. Thanks to Richard Linklater and a top-notch cast, it’s a really, really good indie movie.