REVIEW: Better Off Dead… (1985)

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John Cusack’s life is turned upside down in both good and bad ways…more bad than good in this hilarious 80’s comedy.

Lane Meyer has had two things going for him: his love for skiing and his girlfriend Beth. When he’s given a chance to try out for his high school’s ski team, he’s determined to prove himself to ski team captain Roy Stalin. However, not only does he fail to make the team, but in a shocking turn of events, Beth dumps Lane for Stalin. Things for him just go from bad to worse as he’s constantly harassed by the paperboy for past dues, loses a job his father gets him, and an attempt to go on a date again fails miserably.

Lane decides to end his life, but his attempts to end it all never go as planned. However, when Monique, a French exchange student, arrives and stays with resident nerd Ricky Smith and his overbearing mother, the two form a bond. Yet Ricky has an overpowering crush on Monique and somewhat sees Lane as a threat to his potential romance. However, as Monique and Lane’s friendship grows strong, Lane finally gets the determination to fix all the problems in his life, and it begins with getting revenge on Stalin by challenging him to a ski race.

80’s teen comedies can be known to have its own brand of subgenres: the exploitation teen comedy like Porky’s, the John Hughes subgenre like Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, and then there’s Savage Steve Holland’s films which blends a bit of Hughes and adds some funny animation sequences to mesh with the story. This film marked Holland’s film debut and it is a wild ride that takes us inside the mind of one Lane Meyer, played by John Cusack.

Cusack truly delivers a great performance as the embittered Lane, who loses the one most important thing in his life: his girlfriend. However, he seems to have an obsession with Beth, who he has been dating for only six months. After Holland’s animated opening, the intro of the film shows nothing but pictures of Beth in Lane’s room and when I say pictures, they are plastered everywhere. Even after being dumped, Lane just can’t get over her and the viewer even sees flashbacks from how they first met and a date nearly gone wrong.

However, another hilarious thing about the film is the eccentric cast of characters that are involved in Lane’s life. They include an annoying paperboy who wants his two dollars and goes to extremes to get those two dollars; Lane’s best friend Charles, hilariously played by Curtis Armstrong, who resorts to snorting everything but actual drugs; and Yuji Okumoto’s hilarious car racer, decked out in a suit and talks like Howard Cosell. Even his family is eccentric, with David Ogden Stiers’ father being the most level headed while Kim Darby’s take as Lane’s mother is quite strange with Lane’s little brother having an obsession with prizes from cereal boxes. Diane Franklin is also great as Monique, who spends most of the film silent, until she feels she can trust Lane to reveal a secret about herself with Dan Schneider at his most nerdy as Ricky, who pines for Monique’s love only because of his mother’s forceful manners.

Better Off Dead… is a quirky and wild look at one young man’s misery and determination to make things right that is full of eclectic characters. A true 80’s gem!

WFG RATING: A

An A&M Films and CBS Entertainment production. Director: Savage Steve Holland. Producer: Michael Jaffe. Writer: Savage Steve Holland. Cinematography: Isidore Mankofsky. Editing: Alan Balsam.

Cast: John Cusack, David Ogden Stiers, Kim Darby, Diane Franklin, Curtis Armstrong, Amanda Wyss, Aaron Dozier, Dan Schneider, Laura Waterbury, Yuji Okumoto, Brian Imada, Chuck Mitchell, Scooter Stevens.

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