Jack Black delivers his finest performance yet as small-town Texas mortician Bernie Tiede, a dapper and precise singleton who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a rich but mean-spirited widow (Shirley Maclaine). As his relationship with her intensifies from companion to chattel, he begins to resent her possessive nature until he can take no more. Black fruitfully re-teams with his School of Rock director Richard Linklater for this darkly funny comedy drama based on a true story.
There's not many movies that leave you wanting to give a convicted killer a great big hug. But this is one.
This is largely down to a wonderfully rich performance from Jack Black as Bernie Tiede, a chubby mortician - sorry, 'funeral director' - in the small Texas town of Carthage, where his obsessively precise approach and gentlemanly Southern manners make him a popular oddball among the locals.
However, his gentle demeanour and forgiving Christian moral code leaves him open to manipulation. Cue Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine, excellent), an affluent old crow who Bernie feels morally obliged to befriend after the death of her husband.
Their unique bond is one of which no one really understands (if you overlook the all-expenses trips on which he accompanies her), with a consensus amongst the townspeople that the cloyingly dutiful Bernie is 'somewhat of a sissy'.
However, the increasingly waspish demands of Marjorie - Carthage's own Cruella De Vil - tries even the patience of the saintly Bernie...until he plants four slugs in her back and hides the body in a freezer.
Director Richard Linklater reunites with Black for this darkly comic tale which is the drily droll chalk to the nourishing comedy cheese of their last collaboration (School of Rock).
Matthew McConaughey brings his trademark Texan twang and Stetson as the annoyingly curious District Attorney who grows suspicious of Bernie: "He's an angel alright - an angel of death."
So when the wealthy widow's body is finally found, 'frozen like a popsicle' and her companion Bernie is arrested for her murder, the townsfolk (played by the good people of Carthage themselves) are overcome with disbelief. Bernie must have been provoked - 'it's not as bad as people say it is, he only shot her four times, not five.'
This film is should-I-really-be-laughing-at-this kind of funny, piled high with gallows humour. The Grim Reaper even takes centre stage in a bloody car crash scene, walking amongst his victims to teach horrified schoolkids the folly of drink-driving.
Abandon your preconceptions about Black (who perfected his role after speaking to the real-life Tiede) - the all-too-often Marmite actor delivers a deliciously tasty performance in one of the most compelling films of the year.