The Mortician and the Beast

Jack Black stars in Richard Linklater's true-life dark comedy

Bernie, Dazed and Confused director Richard Linklater’s latest movie, is a half-fiction, half-documentary true story about an effeminate mortician in a tiny conservative Texas town who takes up with a wealthy and unlikable octogenarian and shoots her in the back, only to find the entire town rallying to his defense. Even more bizarre, the funeral director is played by Jack Black with wholesomeness, restraint, and heart.

Actual interviews with the town’s locals who knew the real Bernie and the reviled Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) dominate much of the conversation, and they’re chock full of doozies -- most tellingly the collective indifferent shrug that greets the news that Marjorie's body was discovered, nine months after the last time anyone talked to her, at the bottom of a freezer, underneath packs of icy food.

Linklater is at his best presenting the macabre tale as if it were a regional character trifle. MacLaine fills in some blanks, and Matthew McConaughey is a welcome arch figure in a town where moral ambiguity had better be earned through near-Christ-like acts of goodness. --Justin Strout

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