The story of a man who befriends a widow and takes advantage of her wealth, generosity and companionship, Bernie is a black comedy that is based on a true story.
Bernie Tiede, played to perfection by Jack Black, moves to the small town of Carthage, Texas (we are told in the beginning of the film that this northeastern part of Texas is dull and that nothing ever happens).
He gets a job as an assistant undertaker, manages to fit well into with the community, and performs his job with great detail and care and sympathy. He also ingratiates himself with the bereaved families, especially the older bereaved widows. One in particular, Marjorie "Marge" Nugent (Shirley MacLaine at her finest) is newly widowed and taking control of her husband's company (and lots of money). She is not very well liked in the community (or by her own family) as she is always bitter and cold. After the funeral of her husband, Bernie peppers her with visits, flowers, and other assorted goodies to help her overcome her loss. Eventually she warms up to him and begins to trust him, and eventually asks him to run her affairs. They take trips around the world together, and she also buys him a small plane and other expensive gifts.
However, she starts getting on Bernie's nerves so badly that in a fit of blind rage, he shoots and kills her. No one in the town seems to notice her missing, including her sister and grandchildren. Much to Bernie's dismay, the local sheriff (Matthew McConaughey) starts to investigate after her accountant becomes concerned that he hasn't been able to reach her for six months. Bernie says she is not very well and is in a treatment facility in another state, however, the jig is soon up, and Bernie has to face the music.
Jack Black plays a very soft (and perhaps gay) Bernie with so much sympathy that as the film progresses, we begin to hope he doesn't get caught. This is the perfect role for Black, a black comedy with a memorable character. It is good see Shirley MacLaine back on the big screen. In Bernie, she proves that she is one of the best actresses of her time in a career which spans more than 50 years. McConaughey is in fine form, as usual, as the local sheriff who is suspicious of Bernie. He has been on a roll in the past year, having starred in Killer Joe and Magic Mike.
Bernie is a black comedy in every sense of the word. The true events to this movie took place in 1996, and the real Bernie Tiede is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison.