Advertisements

My Eulogy for Weekend at Bernie’s: Summer’s #1 Dark Comedy of the ’80s


Weekend at Bernie's movie poster

Weekend at Bernie’s movie poster

Weekend at Bernie’s was released in the U.S. on July 5th, 1989. Fast forward 30 years later and I’m writing a blog post about it. Totally not a waste of time at all.

At the time Weekend at Bernie’s released, I was 8 years old. It was the summer before 4th grade. I might’ve had a sick flat-top haircut and I was obsessed with Bo Jackson and Neon Deion Sanders. Taylor Swift didn’t exist.

My family was living in Westwood, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb that’s home to former NFL QB Matt Hasselbeck. I’d be lying if I said I saw WaB in the theater but you best believe I saw this almost every single time it aired on HBO.

If you haven’t seen the movie, I don’t know that you can fully appreciate it today. Try to place yourself in the mind of an adolescent boy in the late ’80s. Should be simple enough.

Bernie’s follows two guys who work at an insurance corporation and discover insurance fraud. After reporting this to their boss, he invites them to his beach house for the weekend. Turns out, the boss is the fraudster and he’s hired a hitman to murder his employees. The mafia decides the boss is a major liability, so they off him instead. Two employees show up, discover boss is dead, and have to pretend he’s alive until they figure shit out.

Evan Smith of Script Magazine wrote a helpful article about comedy writing. In it, he states that the best comedy movies and tv shows feature protagonists making bad decisions. Weekend at Bernie’s is a masterclass in bad decisions.

Andrew Mccarthy GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Taglines

  • Bernie Lomax would be the perfect host, except for one small thing. He’s dead.
  • Bernie would be the perfect host, except for one small thing . . . he’s dead. Now, he’s the life of the party.
  • A lively comedy about a guy who isn’t.
  • Bernie may be dead, but he’s still the life of the party!
  • Bernie Lomax would be the perfect host, except for one small problem: He’s dead.
  • The drop dead comedy of the year!
  • Two morons. One corpse. And the plot thickens…

Andrew Mccarthy Topfive GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Cast

Andrew McCarthy (St. Elmo’s Fire, Pretty in Pink, Mannequin) as Larry Wilson

In a 2017 interview with AV Club, McCarthy said this about the film:

“I mean, that movie was completely stupid and fantastic. It’s the stupidest movie. I love it. I love Bernie’s. 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.” But I love Bernie. I think Bernie is great. I mean, it was ridiculous. We knew at the time it was ridiculous, and there was no top to go over. You can just do anything… that movie has its own logic.”

Jonathan Silverman (Girls Just Want To Have Fun, Caddyshack II, The Single Guy) as Richard Parker

Catherine Mary Stewart (The Last Starfighter) as Gwen Saunders

Terry Kiser as Bernie Lomax — I wonder if it chaps his ass that he’s got 152 acting credits and his most memorable is playing a corpse

Don Calfa (Return of the Living Dead) as Paulie, Vito’s Hit Man

Catherine Parks (Friday the 13th Part III) as Tina, Vito’s Girl – She held the titles of Miss Tampa, Miss Hillsborough County and Miss Florida, and was 4th runner up at the 1978 Miss America Pageant

Eloise DeJoria (Don’t Mess with the Zohan, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) as Tawny — Playboy Playmate of the Month April 1988.
Was a child bride, married at age 15, but divorced soon after.

BREAKING DOWN THE TRAILER & CLIPS

“For Larry and Richard, this is a place to die for. But what they don’t realize, is while they’re checking in, Bernie Lomax will be checking out.”

Mmmm mmm, the cheese on those lines. Enough to clog a couple arteries. Feel like my dad jokes would’ve crushed in the ’80s.

Never has a corpse been as desecrated as this. Never has a death been more ridiculed, mocked, and minimized. And I still can’t help but laugh. Bernie was more beloved in death than he was in life. Could this movie be released today? Probably not. Imagine sitting in a theater and that preview runs. If any of this takes place in the winter, it’s a no-go but the summer beach house vibes seal the deal.

CLIP 1: Richard wants Gwen…

…so he makes up a story about his parents perished in train accident that involved a plane falling on it. Gwen is eating it up, which is standard for most female love interests of the ’80s. Like, do you have a brain? The most revealing line in this whole clip is Gwen asking “You let your butler talk to you like that?” It’s funny but also implies Gwen does not fuck around with the help. Ay-chihuahua. So, yeah, it sets the tone because we see Gwen’s about that life and Richard will have to really be about that life to “get” Gwen.

FUN FACT: Richard’s dad (in the undies) is the director. It should be a law that directors have to appear in their own films. Always a good Easter egg.

CLIP 2: Richard finds the heroin needle in Bernie’s pocket…

…and discovers his boss is dead. While Richard tries to process it all, we get to see Larry’s self-centered behavior on full display. As silly as the movie is, this scene really illustrates the differences between Richard (more thoughtful) and Larry (egotistic).

Of course, one could argue that Richard’s idea of personal success or aspirations has been rocked to its very core by Bernie’s demise and that feeling supersedes anything he actually felt for Bernie. So, in a way, he’s looking out for his own interests as well but it’s more veiled than Larry’s. What a challenge for the writer to get viewers on board with these two.

CLIP 3 – The ‘floating party’ wanders in and lets the good times roll.

No one realizes Bernie’s dead. Even after Richard tells a partygoer the bad news, the guest responds with “That’s the idea, isn’t it?” What a line. So deep, so profound, so on the nose. We’re all just dying and Bernie’s crossed the finish line. Partying is a celebration of life but, for some, it’s also an escape from life (i.e. death). The beach house during the summer is the perfect location for all this shit to go down. Everyone’s carefree, living it up, pushing rumors and gossip, trying to get laid and impressing other people in the most casual way possible.

But, I should leave the dissection and analysis to the pros. Like Mikel Koven, the University of Worcester lecturer who wrote “Traditional Narrative, Popular Aesthetics, Weekend at Bernie’s, and Vernacular Cinema,” published in Of Corpse: Death and Humor in Folklore and Popular Culture. In that selection, he suggested that the movie is a satire of the upper class of the late ’80s, “whose self-indulgences and self-obsessions make them oblivious to Bernie’s dilemma.”

Kinda weird to say that Bernie has a dilemma. There’s no choice to be made. It was made for him. Unless the director’s cut has some scenes in purgatory? But, the themes of self-indulgences and self-obsessions is spot on.

CLIP 4 – Larry and Richard carry Bernie out of the party…

…while Gwen gets hit on by the drunk buddy of our deeply profound Martini swigger with swagger. I mean, “Polyester doesn’t crumple”? Our guy did it again. Quite possibly the best back-to-back lines in movie history.

The guy trying to sell Bernie his Porsche gets his way. Who wears a sweatband and sweater over their shoulders to a beach party in the summer? A Porsche owner. Duh. You have to know that there are probably dozens of verbal deals going down at this party that won’t actually get executed anytime soon.

Larry spots Gwen on the beach and Richard decides to make his move. Larry continues to roll with the punches with aplomb. Vocab teacher would be proud. Why didn’t you report this dead body to the police? Sorry, officer, but I would like to report a hot body to my bedroom. Yowza! 

This also positions Gwen as someone who doesn’t want to be a part of that floating party. Maybe she’s not as conformist or elitist as we thought? She’s not trying to work her way up the social ladder through vapid exchanges. Still can’t get over the butler comment.

TL;DR – Gwen’s seeking something different.

CLIP 5 – Richard makes out with Gwen on the beach.

Bernie washes up on shore. The party’s died down. Just about everyone’s left. Richard finds our Quote Machine seemingly dead on the couch, but turns out he passed out.

Meanwhile, Larry’s getting down to business. The business of knocking them boots. It’s coitus interruptus all around. All hands on deck to fish Bernie out of the water.

CLIP 6 – A woman in lingerie has sex with Bernie…

…while one of the mobsters watches through binocs. If you thought I had questions about sex as an 8-year-old before this scene, you best believe the inquiries went way up watching a hot woman sit on a stiff with stiffie. Dad, do all dogs go to heaven? Yeah, cool. Do we all die with a boner?

Pro tip for all you eligible bachelors — you find a girl who smokes and downs scotch neat, you’ve found yourself one helluva morning-after story.

Here’s Jonathan Silverman’s take on the necrophilia, from “Weekend at Bernie’s and the Art of the Crazy ’80s Comedy“:

“…a better theory for why fans embraced its particular brand of insanity comes from Silverman, who admitted in 2005 that Bernie’s aforementioned off-screen necrophilia bit did give him pause: “This is me reading the script: ‘Who the f— is going to find this funny?’ But people did. And they found it endearing… Terry Kiser did something so clever: He died with a smirk on his face, which let the audience love him.”

CLIP 7 – A little kid buries Bernie under the sand.

Kinda ironic the guys get pissed at the kid for doing what they should be doing. It’s also fitting that Larry doesn’t remember the Hail Mary. These guys have been obliterating every religious mandate known to man, they’re not men of faith.

CLIP 8 – I gotta admit. Andrew McCarthy can MOVE.

The guy’s quick, swift, slick. Kudos to the costume designer for outfitting him in a flowing, unbuttoned button-down shirt. When he’s flying around, the shirt catches air. It’s like watching the caped crusader swoop.

Say what you will about the stupidity of the film and its main characters, but it’s the little things that make this movie so beloved. There are 2 examples in this scene alone:

  1. The synchronized backflips from the couple that got knocked off their boat.
  2. The hoity-toity dude in the captain’s hat, blazer, and ascot who points and kind of matter-of-factly shout-talks “That’s illegal! What you’re doing is illegal!”

I was wrong about not being able to appreciate this on a second viewing as a “mature” adult. Those flew right under the radar as a kid.

CLIP 9 – Larry and Richard get distracted by BIKINI BAAAAAAABES…

…and almost crash twice before getting launched by a wave that causes Bernie to fall off the back. This movie is one long chain reaction of dominoes falling.

Onlookers think Bernie’s “showing off again”… in khakis, a windbreaker, and boatshoes without skis. Like McCarthy said in his interview, it’s a world with its own logic and that logic is “Why let death ruin your life?” and “Live your best death”. Some would say it’s that never-say-die attitude that is so very American. Makes sense this was released Fourth of July week.

Also, an insurance guy (Bernie) naming his boat “Premiums” is such a beautifully understated joke. Cue Blink 182’s “All the Small Things”.

CLIP 10 – Gwen confronts Richard about Bernie…

…claiming he lied about Lomax croaking. Larry provides the receipt. Gwen freaks out. One of the all-time reactions. Have to think she got the part on that reaction alone.

Also, “Do we look like killers?” followed by cracking skulls with bottles is a ballet of buffoonery that’s bellisimo.

***

Of course, critics hated it. That’s what they do. They heart comedies like “Get Out”. Except for The Hollywood Reporter, which called WaB a “good old, knock-down slapstick”.

Weekend At Bernies GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Did you know…

…the working title was “Hot and Cold”

Oof. Talk about dodging a bullet. Where are we as a world if “Hot and Cold” is the title? Would we be in The Upside Down? The Darkest Timeline? We definitely don’t get the Bernie dance. No Bernie Sanders memes. There’s no sequel. It’s possible Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman quit acting altogether. Do we even get Swiss Army Man?

SIDE NOTE: Isn’t it bonkers that I can’t bring myself to watch Swiss Army Man as a grown-ass man but I watched 2 dudes toss around a lifeless Bernie before I hit double digits?

…this was considered as a possible vehicle for Corey Haim and Corey Feldman?

Corey Haim 80S GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

The film was a commercial success with Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman. It was in the top 40 grossers of ’89, out-earning Road House, Say Anything, Do The Right Thing, and the Hulk Hogan classic No Holds Barred. But, with the Two Coreys coming off 1987’s The Lost Boys and 1988’s License to Drive, I could see Bernie’s busting into the top 20. I mean, Harlem Nights was at 21 and Sea of Love was 22 that year and I can’t tell you a single thing about either one.

A stuntman broke a rib while filming the scene where Bernie is dragged behind a boat. (Via People)

“Actor Terry Kiser played Bernie in both his pre- and post-death forms, but he left the truly dangerous work to the professionals, one of whom suffered multiple injuries during this boating scene. They couldn’t have used a mannequin?”

The shady accounting practices used in the film were also used on the film. (via People)

“At least, that’s what director Ted Kotcheff and writer Robert Klane allege in a lawsuit against 20th Century Fox and MGM. Both men say their contracts for the film included a percentage of its profits, millions of dollars of which they have not seen a penny. The lawsuit has not yet been settled, but if we were the two of them, we’d refrain from going to the Hamptons alone for a little while.”

Yes, the dark slapstick comedy was directed by Ted Kotcheff (North Dallas Forty, Rambo First Blood, Red Shoe Diaries). What an eclectic array of credits. Sports comedy, blockbuster action flick with a high body-count, and softcore erotica. Might seem like chaos, but Ted was the perfect choice. Action, sex, machismo. The perfect blend for peak ’80s-ness.

Robert Klane wrote the script. His credits include National Lampoon’s European Vacation, The Man with One Red Shoe, and M*A*S*H*. Again, you can’t do any better. Fish out of water + average Joe in over his head + experience with dead bodies.

Weekend at Bernie’s was the crown jewel of production company Gladden Entertainment but they also gave us Mannequin, Gleaming the Cube, and The Fabulous Baker Boys. There might not be a more ’80s string of movies out there on the ‘net. Gladden was founded by David Begelman who was involved in an embezzlement scandal in the ’70s. Talk about life imitating art. They say write (or produce) what you know.

REBOOT or REMAKE?

My initial thought was no way. But then I read this Reddit comment…

 

Advertisements

Whatcha Got?

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: