Weekend at Bernie’s
Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Written by Robert Klane
Starring Andrew McCarthy, Jonathan Silverman, Catherine Mary Stewart, Terry Kiser
97 minutes, 20th Century Fox, 1989.

***

An artistic vehicle can’t help being some kind of commentary on something. For dontcha know, All Art is Propaganda, “the fool sees not the same tree the wise man sees”, and everything is just an argument for its own existence.

It’s shallow and gaudy at first glance — rife with tacky dark-comedy, but Weekend at Bernie‘s has some narrative tricks to tell. The title character of Bernie is/was the millionaire scumbag “Eighties’ guy” with tons of friends and money — shallow jerkoff in a jumpsuit at the beach. When Bernie dies, nobody around him even notices, except his underlings visiting for the weekend. Bernie is one of the main events at the beach town; people are attracted to him like flies on carrion. And right away you see his sycophants are so caught up in their own narcissism and shallow pursuits that they can’t afford to actually give a flying fuck about Bernie as a person, dead or alive. They don’t actually interact with Bernie at all. Everyone hangs out with Bernie exclusively for the luxury and status that his social-financial assets afford, and there is no interaction with Bernie, the tangible breathing (or not) human being.

Hmm, Bernie the tangible human being. It doesn’t sway people because it precisely isn’t tangible (even though people are… physical things?). Personalities and artistic endeavors sway people emotionally based on taste, but status, money, convenience, sexual allure, power — these things guarantee a modicum of attention and company: the oarsmen for the armada of the ego. The problem with status-based manipulation is that it is not actually deep enough to effectively sway people of quality, and those it does sway, it does so only temporarily, for their allegiance must always change to sample many flavors.

That’s the game of high society (and maybe all social groups) but it’s goofy here because it’s proven via such blatant means. Plainly shown, this is who Bernie is — or was, and who we construct from the variety of tongue-in-cheek engagements that take place with his corpse. He’s not really dead, or at least not any more than the people he keeps company with, because he’s just as active post-mortem as before. To be alive and aware requires emotional introspection and reflection; the people who cannot process things are the ones who cannot see a difference in Bernie — dead or alive. A person and their legacy are the projected constructs of other people. Status is an illusory social belief granted to those who define it.

There’s never anything particularly fuzzy or friendly about Weekend at Bernie’s and that’s what seems so ’80s about it. Part of the honesty of movies like Conan, Blade Runner, Willow, The Thing, Legend and a slew of other dark atmospheric ’80s fantasy films was they seemed to give an honest representation of depravity within a slew of seriously bold artistic choices and stylistic creations. Here whole thing feels like a very authentic emulation of shallowness, the bright colors, energy, and seeming innocence of the dorky protagonists. The difference is that the shallowness does not feel contrived, negative or soulless, whereas the same film today is so engendered with investment potential it becomes purposeless.
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