"You don't want to turn grief tragically into comedy," notes funeral director Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) in Richard Linklater's weirdly wacky adaptation of a true-crime story that took place in East Texas. But that's exactly what happens when Bernie bumps off his best friend/benefactor, Marjorie (Shirley MacLaine). Yet nothing in life is straight-forward or simple, particularly in this quirky black comedy.
In the tiny, rural town of Carthage, no one was more beloved than mild-mannered Bernie Tiede back in 1989, when he first met wealthy, recently widowed Marjorie Nugent, whom everyone, including her estranged family, agreed was a miserable, mean, hateful bitch. Eventually, genial Bernie, a devout Christian, won her trust, becoming her constant companion, traveling around the world as her personal assistant/business manager. Because he was a fey, fastidious bachelor in his 30s, there was speculation that Bernie was gay. But no one really knew -- or cared -- since Bernie was kind and generous to a fault, sharing everything with everyone whose path he crossed.