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Lone Star state of mind

AS RICHARD LINKLATER (Dazed and Confused) tells it in his superb black comedy meets true crime film, Bernie, everybody in the tiny town of Carthage, Texas, loved the titular character (played to oddball perfection by Jack Black), and everybody hated his friend and employer, the wealthy widow Marjorie (Shirley MacLaine, breathing fire into every line). Even though Bernie, a former mortician, was suspected of being gay, these conservative Christians overlooked it: He was that darn sweet.

Based on a Texas Monthly article by Skip Hollandsworth — who also co-wrote the script with Linklater — Bernie is presented from the perspective of these townsfolk. And they love to gossip. Linklater wisely allows their colorful, and colorfully told, memories of Bernie and Majorie’s strange relationship to drive the narrative. It’s not unlike the jury trial — presided over by District Attorney Buck (Matthew McConaughey, all twang and swagger) — that makes up the latter part of the film. Everybody is trying to get at the truth — an impossibility, because everybody already thinks they know it.

Still, it sure is good fun watching as folks opine on the tragedy that befell Bernie and Majorie. Black, MacLaine and McConaughey may be the stars, but Carthage and its people steal the show. KEVIN CAPP