Weekend at Bernie’s hit theaters 30 years ago, on July 5, 1989, and went on to become one of the stupidest movies ever made. The opening plays like a quirky homage to summertime in New York City. Two guys—Andrew McCarthy as Larry, and Jonathan Silverman as Richard—walk through Central Park on a Sunday, on their way to putting in overtime at their insurance job. It’s so hot out that when a white dude in the park attempts a stick-up with a gun in broad daylight (you have to just play along), Larry tells him, “Get your ass outta here. It’s too hot.” Kids splash around fire hydrants, and “Hot and Cold,” by an R&B singer named Jermaine Stewart, soundtracks the opening scene.
The movie’s set-up is a story for the ages: After Larry and Richard alert their boss, Bernie Lomax (Terry Kiser), that someone’s embezzling money from the company, Bernie invites the two of them to his beach house in the Hamptons and plans to have them offed (because, it turns out, Bernie is the embezzler). But then the mob folks poison Bernie (who’s been sleeping with the mob boss Vito’s girlfriend), and Larry and Richard proceed with the farce that Bernie is alive, pretending as if his soul hasn’t been ejected from his body. Refusing to call the police, the two then lug Bernie’s lifeless body around the beach and to Hamptons parties, everyone oblivious to the fact that Bernie is very much deceased. This, as my colleague Ashley Reese points out, serves as commentary on the superficiality, laziness, and narcissism of the wealthy. Is the concept completely stupid? Yes!
“I mean, that movie was completely stupid and fantastic. It’s the stupidest movie. I love it,” McCarthy told AV Club in 2017. “My son—he’s 15—he saw Weekend. He’s never seen anything I’ve been in, my kids, but he saw Weekend At Bernie’s, and he said, ‘Dad, that movie is really stupid.’” Smart kid. Stupid movie. Great stupid movie. The actors and filmmakers knew enough to know what they were doing was ridiculous.
In the spirit of summer and fake-alive people, I rewatched Weekend at Bernie’s with Ashley and lived to talked about it.
CLOVER: Let’s begin with the description of this movie on HBO, which is where we streamed it: This wild comedy is no stiff, even if Bernie is! When two lowly junior execs bring an insurance fraud to the attention of their boss (the real criminal), he invites them to his beach house for a discreet rub-out. But the gangsters get Bernie first, and it’s up to the two pals to make him ‘look alive’ during a party-hearty weekend while they find the killers!
So this is a dark comedy starring two actors with nasally Brooklynish accents who I feel like I never heard from again in a meaningful way after I saw the movie as a child sometime in the 1990s. (Turns out McCarthy became an editor-at-large for National Geographic.) The general conceit is that there’s a dead guy (their boss, Bernie Lomax) whom they’re pretending is still alive. It’s very ’80s, very hokey, and has Ferris Bueller’s Day Off vibes in terms of absurdity and hi-jinx. Rewatching, I realize the set-up is pretty drawn-out and quite boring—25 minutes in, the story is still focused on Larry trying to romantically impress a coworker. He and Richard get to finally pronounce Bernie dead around 40 minutes, and the runtime is roughly an hour-and-a-half.
In terms of ’80s movies and black comedies, Weekend at Bernie’s is one of those classic pieces of VHS cinema with a plot that makes no practical sense. Larry explains the story in one line: “Why don’t we just pretend he didn’t die, just for a bit.” Instead of calling the police (Richard tries to at first, before being intercepted and persuaded by Larry, who represents the white male American psyche), they parade and rearrange Bernie’s corpse as necessary without consent, and no one notices! It’s very stupid and fun and at points stereotypical of mob life. What did you think?
ASHLEY: Honestly, I had a great time watching this movie! I was immediately drawn in by the fact that the actor who plays Larry also played Blaine in Pretty In Pink (in my notes I wrote, “IS THAT BLAINE???”). Since I have a soft spot for that movie and always thought Blaine was kind of cute in a bland way, I definitely came into the movie with a little bit of positive bias.
So going into this, all I knew was that Weekend at Bernie’s is about some guys trying to pretend that a dead guy isn’t really dead. All the stuff about insurance fraud, mobsters, and the like really came as a surprise.
One of the things I liked was how it just reeked of the ’80s. I mean, having a member of the Brat Pack in the movie, first off, but also the very Old New York attempted mugging by gunpoint in the park (I loved how Larry brushed off the would-be mugger and said, “Getcher ass out of here, it’s too hot!”), Bernie’s gilded greed, the very high cut bathing suits, the interior of Bernie’s Hamptons beach house… I also liked how nobody realized that Bernie was dead, because it just emphasized how vapid and soulless all these relationships between the richie rich types can be. I don’t know how much social commentary this movie was trying to actually make, but I liked how they depicted that element.
But you’re right, for a typical ’80s hijinks movie, they really take awhile to get to the whole dead-guy-is-dead part. I feel like half of the movie was really about Richard managing to find new ways to fuck up his prospects with his Incredibly 80s™ love interest. I really don’t know why Richard lied so much, especially about living with his parents. He’s really bad at it, like, don’t tell her your parents died just admit that you live at home!
There were a few really funny bits with Bernie’s dead body. I especially liked when Richard was making out with Gwen on the beach and he noticed Bernie’s body washing up on the shore right in the middle of it. But after awhile I got a little bored with the dead body mishaps! They could have absolutely cut the time that was spent with Bernie’s body in the boat by half.
CLOVER: It’s true, Bernie’s “I’m dead” outfit is iconic and one of the things I remember most. The azure-blue track jacket and tiny round sunglasses covering his very dead eyes. The Burt Reynolds mustache… The ’80s aesthetic adds even more to the insanity, in retrospect. The physical gags are the bulk of the stupidity, obviously. And to think, it’s just simple humor. Roger Ebert gave the film 1 out of 4 stars and wrote that “it should be immediately obvious to several people that Bernie is dead. In order for them not to notice, they must be incredibly dense. Their behavior in not noticing is so idiotic that we can’t take them seriously, or care about what they do.”
Ebert, relax. He clearly did not have an appreciation for dumb body humor and suspension of disbelief. I laughed when Bernie fell off the railing and onto the beach and then I felt stupid about it. Larry, at one point, ties string to Bernie’s arms while Bernie’s in a poolside chair, maneuvers him like a puppet, and swats a fly on his face and I’m sorry, I laughed and kept saying, “This is so dumb.” They used a dummy and a stuntman for some portions, but kudos to the actor who played Bernie (Terry Kiser) for getting paid to be carried around on set for most of the film.
When I first saw it, I didn’t think too much about the narcissism of the wealthy, so that’s a good point. Also, Bernie was a criminal? You’re right in that this is basically a very long skit.
ASHLEY: Speaking of’ 80s fashion, can we discuss what the hell the mob boss’s girlfriend wore on her wrists? They looked like bed skirts! What on earth?
CLOVER: I mean, it’s perfect.
ASHLEY: And seriously, Ebert. That’s the point! Again, it’s not that deep but also it’s deep enough to make some kind of point about all these 1 percenters’ complete lack of awareness that their good friend Bernie is dead. Eighties excess has always been depicted as this deeply envious thing. The Maserati (painted black!), the boat, the hot women, the money… I, too, would love a beach house with a pool. I’d also love to have real friends who would know if I was dead on my couch!
But, again, I don’t know how much social commentary this film was actually trying to infuse, but the little morsel that does manage to break through in this dark comedy works.
CLOVER: There is some serious writing (discovered via People) on the tools of death and humor in the movie and its satire about rich people “whose self-indulgences and self-obsessions make them oblivious to Bernie’s dilemma.”
ASHLEY: The physical comedy in this movie made me laugh too; it made me laugh those deep belly giggles that make me sound and feel like an idiot. But the slapstick humor was good, and I don’t think we get enough cheap laughs anymore! I’m sick of only laughing at clever shit! Give me some good ol’ fashioned dead-guy-fell-off-a-boat-and-nobody-notices-until-it’s-too-late laughs.
And while I didn’t exactly belly laugh at the bit where the mob boss’s girlfriend having sex with a very dead Bernie, I did think it was funny that there was straight up necrophilia in this movie for laughs. Like, she really said that that was the best sex they ever had. I was a skip and a hop away from going down a “rigor mortis” Wikipedia hole when I was watching this movie, but somehow refrained. But like, do dead bodies have boners? Dare I Google? Did he at least smell funky?
Terry Kiser was great as dead weight, honestly.
Despite thinking that some sequences were way too long, and being thoroughly convinced that half of the Richard/Gwen screen time was meandering and unnecessarily stressful (so much back and forth, so many chances offered, so many mistakes and apologies, I got exhausted!), I thought that Richard and Larry were great protagonists. They played well off of each other.
CLOVER: Yes, I don’t think this concept would work for 2019. Dead bodies not being able to consent and all… Like many things in the movie, the sex is also biologically questionable, not to get all Ebert on you. This guy laid it out well so I’ll just paste it here:
In particularly sudden and violent deaths—death by hanging was frequently mentioned in conjunction with angel lust—the impact on the spinal cord will cause the victim to have a priapism in his penis. (At death, there is also a weakening of the muscle at the base of the penis which normally restrict the flow of blood in; do not confuse a death erection with dying face down and having one’s blood pool in one’s penis). And death by poisoning is particularly sudden and violent, at least according to wikipedia.
So the presence of angel lust would make the timeline of these acts plausible… insomuch as we’re talking about how a dead body can still be loose despite the fact that someone had sex with it the night before.
There is, however, a three fold of issues with this scenario: 1) there is absolutely no consensus on how long a death erection lasts; Bernie’s would have had to have one for more than 12 hours to have sex with his girlfriend which seems, I don’t know, long. 2) Bernie never appears to have an erection at any other point in time in the movie. Angel lust strikes at the instant of death and doesn’t come and go (if you’ll pardon the pun); once present, the death erection lasts until, well, it doesn’t. Then it’s gone forever. And 3) rigor mortis has to set in at sometime. This generally is regarded as happening after about 4-5 hours of death.
A sequel came out in 1992, Weekend at Bernie’s II, which I did not see. The original is in a similar canon as slapstick movies like Dumb & Dumber. But I agree, I’d like to see some resurgence of stupid illogical comedy that’s not super corny. It’s a tough balance. Maybe they could remake it with a social media spin: An influencer gets killed at a music festival and friends have to pretend she’s alive for the Gram!
ASHLEY: Thank you for looking into that, honestly. Looks like the writers didn’t do their research when it came to “angel lust.” Dead body is hard to spot, but everyone can spot a raging boner. Definitely puts a new spin on the word “stiffy” huh? (I’m so sorry.)
CLOVER: Let’s discuss the ending, because a ridiculous movie like this has to have an equally ridiculous, implausible ending, which is basically a long tussle between Larry, Richard, and the hitman who’s trying to kill both them and Bernie, whom he does not realize is already dead. Perfect?
ASHLEY: Yes, the absolutely bonkers ending. Again, by the end of the movie I was still having a great time, but thought it was starting to drag. The boat incident, Richard and Larry knocking out a couple of innocent dudes, assuming they were the hitmen Bernie sent to end them, that random child who turned Bernie into a temporary sandcastle. Enough already! I did love the final tussle though, because it was top tier absurd. I also loved how Larry tried to wrap the hitman up in a phone cord. Can your iPhone do that?
But even more perfect than that final showdown was the very ending when Bernie’s dead body somehow launches its way out of the ambulance and ends up right by Larry, Richard, and Gwen on the beach, sending them running and screaming. That killed me.
Also, I was just looking at the synopsis for Weekend at Bernie’s II and I cannot believe how bad this sounds:
After witnessing the murder of their corrupt boss, Bernie Lomax (Terry Kiser), Larry Wilson (Andrew McCarthy) and Richard Parker (Jonathan Silverman) are blamed for Bernie’s embezzlement and fired. Desperate to find the stolen $2 million and clear their names, the pair learns the fortune was hidden in the Virgin Islands and travels there in pursuit. Meanwhile, Bernie’s corpse is partially revived in a voodoo ceremony by gangsters also looking for the money.
I’m just… what? The reanimated corpse of Bernie is obviously the worst part of all of this, but like… who greenlit this? I just want to talk.
And I absolutely love the idea of a modern day Weekend at Bernies that involves an influencer who has to keep up appearances for the Gram. I mean, I’d love it, but I do think that there would be controversy regardless, because what isn’t riddled with controversy these days? I hate to sound like someone who is anti-PC, because I’m not! But I think that we need to embrace dark slapstick humor again. It’s all good fun, and sometimes it manages to stumble upon a larger point.