Weekend at Bernie’s might be the most misunderstood film I know. It was a hit in 1989, despite bad reviews, and has had staying power since: the image of Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman propping up Bernie’s lifeless body is seared onto the cultural memory, one of those iconic cinematic images that has been parodied and homaged and referenced enough to take on a life of its own beyond the film itself. It’s a very famous film, is the point – though not exactly acclaimed – but when I watched it, I kind of felt like the first person to ever see it.
Here’s what I assumed Weekend at Bernie’s would be like: an extremely dumb, extremely wacky 1980s comedy, in the vein of Porky’s or a National Lampoon movie, that is probably not very good but has a kind of charm that not very good films from the 1980s tend to have. I knew the basic plot – two guys pretend another guy, Bernie, is alive, while staying at his place for the weekend. I assumed – either because it’s how it turns out in any given Weekend at Bernie’s-inspired TV episode, or because of the existence of Weekend at Bernie’s II – that Bernie wasn’t really dead. That our heroes found him unconscious and panicked, but, by the end of the film, Bernie would wake up, and we’d arrive at our happy ending.
Weekend at Bernie’s is something much stranger, and much more interesting.