Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Expectations: I have the expectation that this is gonna be one hell of a weekend at Bernie’s! He always throws the best parties!
On the general scale:
On the “People Pretending a Corpse is Still Alive” scale:
When I started Silver Emulsion, I knew one day I’d get here. It was inevitable that I’d review Weekend at Bernie’s, and now having seen it again, I’m finding it hard to know how to go about actually reviewing it. I’ve only seen this once before, around the time it originally dropped on VHS, so I must have been about eight or nine years old. I found its uproarious, black humor intoxicating, with two horny, bumbling dorks doing their best to drag a dead man around as if he were alive. I loved it. I also loved The Three Stooges at the time, and watching this now I was able to see the parallels between the two. And just for the record, Bernie’s corpse is a better replacement for Curly than Shemp.
Weekend at Bernie’s is the other 1989 film set in New York during the sweltering summer heat. Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman work for an insurance firm and over the sticky, roof-melting hot of the weekend, they discover some clear insurance fraud on the company’s books. Come Monday morning they prance down to Bernie Lomax’s office, in hopes of big praise and even bigger rewards. He thanks the boys for finding this “error” and invites them to a weekend at his place… oh I can’t resist, a weekend at Bernie’s! But when they arrive ready for a getaway filled with booze, woman and excitement, they find Bernie slumped over in his office chair.
They don’t initially realize he’s dead, and just as they do, a shitload of people drop in for one of Bernie’s legendary parties. Of course, no one notices he’s dead. Remember that this is the 80s, when everyone was all “Me, me, me.” The self-centered partygoers never cared about Bernie, just as long as his house was open and the booze was flowing, it was all good. Even Andrew McCarthy doesn’t bat an eye at Bernie’s death, instead instantly worrying about how his weekend will be ruined. In the 80s, we mourned the dead after we had our fun. What have you done for me lately, Bernie?
Once Bernie is dead and Silverman & McCarthy start dragging him around, the film is pretty damn funny. One of the real problems though is that it takes about forty minutes to get to that point. This lead-up section is a little too slow, and a little too meandering, but maybe that was just because I knew the big twist going in. Although, wouldn’t anyone that saw the trailer? Anyway, there’s a lot of character building for Silverman’s character via his relationship with Catherine Mary Stewart, but it never really pays off and is merely sidetracking us from the corpse shenanigans. More staple-gunning toupees to Bernie’s head and less forced romantic sub-plots, please. But I can’t complain too much about this, Weekend at Bernie’s is the gold standard in the “People Pretending a Corpse is Still Alive” comedy sub-genre, which, as far as I can tell, consists of a whopping two films. That right there is the definition of an untapped market.
On the filmmaking front, Weekend at Bernie’s is adequately made, with nothing notable happening with the camera. There’s some interesting long-take conversations where the camera floats around our two heroes, but other than that it’s all standard Hollywood fare for the era. It works perfectly well, but I was expecting something with slightly more gravitas from the director of First Blood. Yeah, as in John Rambo. I couldn’t believe it myself. And why does this morbid cinematic landmark only have a bare-bones DVD release? Where is the luscious Collector’s Edition with replica Bernie toupee and mini staple gun? Where are the lengthy featurettes on the evolution of Bernie as a character and an 80s cultural icon? Where is the lenticular cover that makes Bernie’s arm wildly wave up and down when you tilt it? Criterion, I’m looking at you. Fill the void.
Weekend at Bernie’s is not a film that you could call good really, but it is so singular and unique that it is an absolute must watch. It might be a little DOA at the beginning, but once Bernie dies it’s drop-dead hilarious every time his smirking, sunglass-wearing corpse is on-screen. I can’t help but like this movie, and while my memory of the sequel is very sketchy, I’m excited to see a film where Bernie is dead for the entire runtime. Be sure to come back tomorrow and find out how it went!