There’s a moment in Richard Linklater’s mildly diverting—though grossly overtouted—magnum opus Boyhood that aptly serves as the point of departure for my critical reaction to it. It’s photography class, and slacking high schooler Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is frittering around in the dark room instead of buckling down and honing his craft, a fact that his snitty teacher accosts him about. Sure, the guy’s a scruffy-bearded, sanctimonious pusbag, but even a douche can be right sometimes.
Though billed as a dark comedy, ultimately there’s very little funny about Bernie, a docudrama directed by Richard Linklater (School of Rock, Me and Orson Welles) and based on a true story about a mortician and funeral parlor director, Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), who weasels his way into the affections of a wealthy widow, Marge Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), then murders her. Not that I didn’t chuckle a few times. It was hard not to, given the magnitude of the lie that was concealed behind the complacent smirk of the protagonist, masterfully played by Black, as he carried himself as a paragon of charity, spreading God’s word and working as a community volunteer in the small town of Carthage, Texas.