Weekend at Bernie’s and the Art of the Crazy ’80s Comedy
By Mandi Bierly
Thirty years ago, Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman lived it up with a corpse for laughs.
If you like watching ‘80s movies and debating whether they could be remade today, you should love Weekend at Bernie’s.
Picture it: A couple of low-level employees (Jonathan Silverman’s buttoned-up Richard and Andrew McCarthy’s Hawaiian-shirt-loving Larry) discover a $2 million case of fraud at their insurance company. They report their findings to the top brass, Bernie (Terry Kiser), who promptly invites them to his Hamptons beach house for Labor Day weekend — so he can have them killed. He’s been embezzling, and asks a former crime boss’s muscle to make the problem go away. The film’s real twist though? Before the boys arrive, the hitman takes Bernie out instead, partly because he’s getting greedy, but mostly because Bernie’s been boffing the crime boss’s lady. Now there’s a full hour of the movie left during which Richard and Larry pretend Bernie is still alive — and no one, from the partygoers dropping by his pad who assume Bernie’s wasted to that moll who visits his bedroom and leaves happy, questions it.
The outrageous plot had its critics of course, but enough moviegoers reveled in the dark, sun-soaked slapstick comedy from First Blood director Ted Kotcheff to greenlight a sequel. Perhaps audiences had simply been worn down by the decade’s other questionable cinematic offerings, including a big-screen adaptation of the Marvel comic Howard the Duck, C. Thomas Howell posing as a black law student to score a scholarship in Soul Man, and Howie Mandel playing a would-be heir who’d been raised by wolves in Walk Like a Man (that one also scripted by Weekend at Bernie’s writer Robert Klane). But 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.”
While Kiser’s performance is key (ditto that of his stunt double), it’s the odd-couple chemistry between Silverman and McCarthy that truly sells the story, along with their ability to ground the absurdity of the low-brow, high-stakes situation through their expert timing. McCarthy had already had a full relationship with a dummy come-to-life in Mannequin by this point in his career, so he’s perfectly comfortable acting opposite Bernie’s lifeless corpse as self-absorbed Larry uses him to climb the Hamptons’ bikini-clad social ladder. Silverman (Brighton Beach Memories, Girls Just Want to Have Fun), meanwhile, finally got to come of age on-screen playing Richard as a young adult who can deliver a blow, land the girl, and sport a tan and stubble in the end.
With their total commitment to the friendship, gallows humor, and over-the-top physical comedy paying off, it’s easy to understand why McCarthy still speaks fondly of the flick. “It’s the stupidest movie,” he said in 2017. “I love it.”