Movie Review : Weekend at Bernie's (1989)
The eighties gave us a multitude of disposable movies meant to be enjoyed semi-ironically to whoever isn't high on cocaine while watching them. They are often best enjoyed under the influence of lighter, more organic drugs and age surprisingly well if you don't take seriously. I don't think Weekend at Bernie's was ever meant to be taken seriously, but it's fucking awesome. It's a goddamn crime against humanity that it has a 54% rating on RottenTomatoes and whichever critic had the balls to rate it negatively should be tried at The Hague. Weekend at Bernie's is an eighties classic that should get its own Criterion collection edition and I'm here to explain why.
Weekend at Bernie's is the story of Richard Parker (Jonathan Silverman) and Larry Wilson (Andrew McCarthy), young, helpless dudes working entry-level jobs for an insurance company. They work long, thankless hours, hoping it'll eventually lead to a professional breakthrough of some sort. And that theoretical breakthrough comes when they discover a fraud, which they quickly flag to CEO Bernie Lomax (the immortal Terry Kiser). Lomax is so happy about their find, he invited Richard and Larry to his beach house for his Labour Day party, where he secretly plans to have them murdered. See, Bernie is the one defrauding his own company. His mob associates decide to eliminate him instead since he's become too careless. And they do. Nothing will ruin Richard and Larry's party though, so they'll carry Bernie's corpse around for an entire weekend to maintain the illusion that he's alive. I know it sounds stupid and it probably is. It doesn't change the fact that it's awesome.
I love Weekend at Bernie's. My reasons for loving it are probably terrible, but I love it anyway. If that movie had been made by anybody but Ted Kotcheff and Robert Klane *, it would've been a bland and derivative thriller starring Johnny Depp **. Every character and situation in Weekend at Bernie's is a cliché ripped from another genre: the ambitious Wall Street up and comers, the coked-up CEO, the mob deciding of someones fate around a dinner table, the mild-mannered professional killer, Richard's cute but useless romance with Gwen, etc. It makes fun of movies like Wall Street and the Godfather without overtly lampooning them. Weekend at Bernie's laughs at the logic of bullshit tropes like a bunch of stoners would during a pot muffins and Mountain Dew movie night. And I know a thing or two about that. That's why it's such a hit with this particular demographic, it completely subdues our expectations.
Another thing I enjoy about Weekend at Bernie's is its nihilistic sense of humor. See, death is usually meant for disposable characters in Hollywood. They meet their horrible demise and drop from the face of the Earth. The only person dying in Weekend at Bernie's is Bernie Lomax himself and it's just the beginning of his adventure. Bernie built such a shallow and hedonistic world for himself that none of his house guests except for Richard and Larry actually notice that he's dead. They're just happy to use the facilities and drink his alcohol. Our protagonists don't even really care about him. They want professional advancement first and foremost. Bernie Lomax becomes a commodity that allows them to live above their pay grade when he dies, which would be pretty fucking grim in any other setting. But you know, there's a cadaver flailing around for two thirds of the film. Death never conveniently goes away.
Weekend at Bernie's is a mean, nihilistic slapstick comedy that could've easily been a Buster Keaton movie sixty years earlier. It's a weird and colorful attack on the vapid lifestyle championed in the eighties. That movie has reason in the world to be grim and it just refuses to take itself seriously and prefers making cadaver jokes instead. That is why Weekend at Bernie's is a cinema classic. I have no doubt this movie was made in a haze of cocaine and that it just resulted in something really cool somehow, but Kotcheff and Klane made it work. Weekend at Bernie's is a countercultural film in disguise. It's also really funny if you're into slapstick humor. Don't let the internet tell you otherwise. Watch Weekend at Bernie's for yourself and embrace its uproarious nihilism.