Better Off Dead... (1985)
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Better Off Dead follows a familiar basic storyline. Main likeable character is dealt a bad hand in life, pulls themselves up by their bootstraps, and ends up triumphing over the people who pushed them down. This formula led to such films as "Animal House", "Revenge of the Nerds", and "Porky's". Not that these films are bad, they are just similar in basic plot.
Better Off Dead however, adds a bizarre surreal quality unaccomplished by these other films. Perhaps this is due to the claymation hamburger sequence, or the unlikely skiing competition at the end of the film.
Or perhaps it's due to the parade of familiar faces from other 80's films. John Cusack's best friend is none other than Curtis Armstrong, best known as "Booger" in the Revenge of the Nerds movies. Next door neighbor and consummate slob Dan Schneider is recognizable as "Dennis" from the TV show "Head of the Class". Cusack's boss at the fast food joint is played by Chuck Wallace, the title character from "Porky's". And with a bit part, yet one the funniest in the whole film, Yano Anaya reprises his "Grover Dill" persona from "A Christmas Story" in the form of a vengeful paperboy. I WANT MY TWO DOLLARS!!!!
Also has some of the funniest lines in 80's teen comedy, such as Franklin's accidental misuse of the word "testicles", and the comment made by an onlooker when Cusack tumbles into a trash truck.
Definitely better than the majority of 1980's teen comedies.
Rounding out the cast includes Amanda Wyss as the fickle girlfriend who is more interested in her popularity than anything else; David Ogden Stiers (Major Winchester from M*A*S*H fame) as the dad who tries too hard to be "in", Kim Darby is priceless here as the mother who is completely, absolutely and utterly clueless, Scooter Stevens as Lane's little brother Badger is one ongoing surprise after another, and what is probably going to go down as BY FAR the most coveted film role in the 20th century, Demian Slade plays the paperboy from Hell. His portrayal alone makes the film not only worth watching, but worth buying! To close matters off in the casting department, the chemistry between Cusack and Diane Franklin who plays the French foreign exchange student Monique Junot, is something that simply cannot be denied. Keep in mind however, that whatever you do that like The Cable Guy DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT take your eyes off that paperboy!
Cusack and Holland do a perfect job of capturing that period of time in the 1980's better than any other film of the period. This film is well worth an evening's entertainment. Rent it once, and then buy it, as you will want to watch it many times over. It took me SEVEN YEARS to find a copy in VHS. The DVD was just bought for $10.00 and change from from Wal-Mart.com. I highly recommend this film to one and all as a MUST-OWN!
On a scale of 1 to 10, I give this film a 12/10. ***
Whoooooooo! I'm out of breath. So why do I mention all of these things about the movie? Because all of these little issues combine to somehow make one of the funniest and zaniest movies you will ever see. Better Off Dead is so full of energy that there is enough material in here for ten movies. But Savage Steve Holland makes it work. Don't ask me how, but he does. I think I'm going to stop here because if you haven't seen this movie you have to see it now. This is a completely original film and it also one that no one will ever have the guts to make again. This is one hell of a film.
What makes this a cut above is the composition of sight gags -- 'How to build a space shuttle out of household items' is in the foreground, and then the eye pulls back to reveal the mother battling a sea monster in a pot, which frustrates her attempt to cook it...Cusack frets over an impossibly broken binding, and in the same frame the 'paperboy from hell' appears on a weatherized delivery bicycle...it's priceless stuff.
The story is told visually, you see...this has less to do with dialogue (although what there is of it, is classic), than with the idea of the writer's imagination conflated with movie imagination conflated with movie 'reality'. We see Holland seeing Cusack seeing the situations somewhere in between Holland's imagination and the platform of the movie (high school role playing - already a confused reality). At key points, Holland literally invents characters on paper or in stop motion animation to further warp that perception. These realities continually blur with 'real' reality, and the sheer absurdity keeps it seamless.
Some impressive camera work during the skiing portions.
This is capable film-making that can be enjoyed as what it was meant to be.
Ah, the nostalgic 80s when kids knew how to be young rather than spend their days on the cellphone or behind the computer. The film delightfully spoofs those teen angst movies that were so popular at the time. Lane's ex-girlfriend giving him an excuse that she dumped him for someone better looking and more popular, Lanes failed suicide attempts, Lanes cartoons are among some of the most amusing sequences.
Holland gives the film a unique treatment. 'Better Off Dead...' has an innovative quality that makes it one of a kind. It includes the adorable claymated romantic Hamburgers, cartoons, a stalking paperboy, a ski competition on one leg, a little brother who's a silent genius and an international language. Holland put a lot of heart in the writing and some of the lines had me rolling on the floor laughing.
The acting is splendid. The character Lane seems tailor-made for John Cusack. I've always thought of Cusack as an underrated actor and 'Better Off Dead...' is one of the few movies that does justice to his talents (even though this is perhaps one of his first roles). A vivacious Diane Franklin is supercute and she has the loveliest smile. The chemistry between her and Cusack is undeniable and both have excellent comic timing. David Ogden Stiers and Kim Darby are hilarious as the nutty parents. Curtis Armstrong provides some morbidly funny moments.
To say it in one sentence, 'Better Off Dead...' is one of the rarest examples of teen movies at its best. It already is a classic and while many of us watch it for nostalgic reasons, others may like it simply for the heart and humour.
To say that the family is dysfunctional is to put it mildly. David Ogden Stiers provides some funny moments but Kim Darby, who was 38, at the time of the movie, is totally miscast as the mother. Her being so naive doesn't help her cause.
We have a French exchange student living across the street from Cusack. She is staying with a boy who reminded me of Josh Mostel and a mother similar to Lainie Kazan.
Naturally, we have the bully who took Cusack's original gal pal away. There will be an ultimate challenge by the two in the skiing finale.
The oriental man doing an impression of the late Howard Cosell is hilarious.
The picture lacks credibility and is most inane at times.
"Better off Dead" is a cute romantic comedy even thirty-one years later. The story is funny and there are hilarious situations. Further this film has not aged and entertains. Maybe the greatest difference is that in the viewer that enjoyed this cult-movie in 1985 now is able to understand much more Lane's father attitudes. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "Minha Vida é um Desastre" ("My Life Is a Disaster")
Although Lane and his family seem to have more money than God (he has a huge walk-in closet on top of everything else), they somehow can't afford to pay the evil paperboy two dollars. The paperboy then stalks Lane throughout the movie which is just one of the many things that lowers the quality to the level of a second-rate Saturday morning kiddy show.
If you're a not-too-bright, upper-middle class ten or eleven year old kid, you'll probably love this movie and laugh until you wet yourself. But, if you hate trivial movies that contain silly chase scenes, lame car crashes, idiotic daydreams, and unbelievable situations that the director seems to think are ever-so-wacky, you'll want to avoid this movie.
If you like wacky movies, but don't want your intelligence insulted too much, try "Weird Science." Lots of crazy stuff happens in that movie, but it's a thousand times more believable because of the premise.
The story concerns high schooler Cusack whose girlfriend, played by Amanda Wyss (Shakma) leaves him for a boorish jock. The film's title come from Cusack believing himself to be better off dead than minus Amanda Wyss. So, he tries to commit suicide (he really doesn't, his foolish attempts only give credence to the fact that he can't score at anything) a couple times during the film. Savage Steve Holland tries to coax laughs out of an eccentric family, Cusack's best pal that snorts snow and a deranged newspaper boy demanding his money. It's films like this that give teen comedies a bad name.
STORY: $$$ (There was plenty room here for Holland to give his viewers the goods but his writing skills are wanting to say the least. He fails to build any sort darkness out of John Cusack's character making his suicidal sojourns pointless and flat. Holland was dealt a hanging curveball and popped the darn thing up).
ACTING: $$ (Rather weak here as well. Genre favorites Curtis Armstrong, Vincent Schiavelli and Amanda Wyss do their thing and try to give this some substance but fail. Cusack is far better in other films and David Ogden Steirs is wasted as John's father).
SEXUALITY: $ (Little of note here. The sexy Tina Littlewood is accidentally stripped in the school cafeteria and blushes in her underwear).
There is not a single solitary likable character (with the possible exception of Monique); and I use the term character rather loosely when it comes to this disaster. The so-called characters are less dimensional than cartoon characters. In fact, I've seen Saturday morning cartoons that are better than this. (Hint: Beep-Beep) As such, there is no empathy evoked for any of them. Just the opposite -- I felt nothing but contempt and disdain for the characters, the writers, and the director.
Coupled with the fact that the humor is Neanderthal-like (i.e. slipping on a banana peel), this apparent spoof is nothing but a colossal flop. It strains the mind trying to grasp how in the world this movie rates as high as it does on IMDb.
The rest of the movie is sort of interesting because of the style of the first half which is kind of offbeat considering that Cusack's character, Lane is ten times more realistic than the rest of the characters. His mother, who cooks rather disgusting meals belongs in some kind of 50's sitcom and almost all her lines are written like she is talking to herself and not interacting with anybody else. And who could forget that pesky little paperboy who keeps showing up and demanding 2 dollars. That scene has almost been parodied to death on various spoofs through the 90's and 00's.
The director, Savage Steve Holland, did not have a prolific career but you certainly can't deny that he made some movies out of the ordinary and I am glad that I can remember this as being one of the more satisfying experiences at the movies because usually 80's movies were extremely formulated. John Cusack may not have been a official member of what was known as the Brat Pack and this film certainly is a notch below the Breakfast Club. However, since he succeeded where they failed, I doubt that he lost much sleep over it.
Better Off Dead, sister movie of One Crazy Summer, is one hell of an oddball film for the 80s teen category. It is a mix of strange humor, animated sequences (drawn by writer/director Savage Steve Holland), and a loveable star, to pull off quite an entertaining, and hopefully not too obscure, 80s teen comedy.
John Cusak is his typical outrageous teenager character in his role as Lane Meyer, the same type of character we saw in One Crazy Summer, Hot Pursuit, and others; the one where he is always a regular nice guy who somehow gets caught up in unforseen crazy situations. But Better Off Dead offers the most off-the-wall atmosphere for such a seemingly level-headed kid.
Lane Meyer is a young guy who's long time girlfriend, Beth (Amanda Wyss), breaks up with him. Lane is crushed and isn't quite sure whether he can deal with the problem (even contemplating suicide until he realizes he has not yet even visited New York). Beth has taken up with Lane's blonde macho nemesis, Roy (Aaron Dozier) (who's character is quite similar to Cusak's nemesis character in One Crazy Summer). As guys typically do in these movies to compete for a girl's heart, Lane is going to race Roy in the dangerous K-12 run (there is a joke in the measurement of the slope because 9 is actually the highest and hardest slope rating). But, Lane is in over his head and seems nowhere near ready for such a dangerous slope. But, since things have gone pretty lousy for Lane since breaking up with Beth, what's he got to lose? The tag line 'Sometimes...you're Better Off Dead' is quite right for Lane. It seems like for a while, everything is disastorous for Lane such as always losing the race to the two Japanese brothers who mimic Howard Cossell; the date with the girl who just suggests that Lane give her the money that a date would've cost and spare them both the agony of pretending to enjoy each other's company; or when everybody in the school, including Lane's geometry teacher, keeps asking Lane if it's alright if they ask Beth for her number).
But things get better when a French exchange student, Monique, moves in next door with a fat mama's boy (Dan Schneider as Ricky) and his obnoxious mom who make her stay in America literally a living hell. So, she and Lane Meyer soon enough become friends and maybe life without Beth just isn't so bad for Lane Meyer after all.
The movie is great ("Valley Girl's" E.G. Daily plays at the school dance!), and a completely different kind of 80s teen movies, one that should be in a category by itself, because the things that go on around Lane are so weird. For example, Lane's little brother Badger (Scooter Stevens), who has no speaking lines in this movie, spends the entire film cutting off those little sweepstakes mailers from various household food boxes and mailing them in to get stuff, particularly supplies needed to build himself a rocket (really). In another example, you'll notice that the filming locations used for the slope sequences in which the entire city appears to be covered in a blanket of snow is much different from the sunny, dry climate of the locations where Lane is at school or at home or anywhere but the slope. The Nine Lives song, Paperboy, makes the reference to the running gag of the paperboy in the movie who keeps hassling Lane for his two dollars. "Where's my two dollars?" repeats the kid with a paperboy posse. It subtle and unsubtle humor.
If you like this movie, try Holland's One Crazy Summer, which came out a few years later, starring Cusak (again) and Demi Moore and Bobcat Goldwaith, among others. It is just as bizarre and funny.
This comedy has a very particular, absurd humor. Unlike a lot of comedies that were made in the late 80's and early 90's, it's not a rip-off or a bad version of something that was made in the early 80's. However, it's not a type of humor that anyone can enjoy. But if you do enjoy it, you'll love this movie and it can easily become one of your favorite. The strange family of the main character and the main character himself played by John Cusack are extremely amusing and funny.
It's seen as a teen movie by a lot of people, but I personally don't think it is. It's an unique genre, but it's also easy to wonder if it's a parody of the typical 80's teen movies. If it is a parody, it's a lot easier to understand the typical cheesy ski film aspect of the movie and the romance with the exchange student. But if it's not, then the movie would be separated into a horrible cheesy teen movie and a hilarious comedy. This is what is so strange about it. The typical 80's love story really doesn't work in this movie because of how goofy it is.
I prefer believing it's a parody, and it probably is. Basically, I think this is a very enjoyable fun movie that no one can possibly hate. Specially if you're a fan of absurd humor and the 80's.
If I were to sum up Better Off Dead in a word, I would use the word 'odd'. How many films can you think of that includes dinner walking off the plate, someone's mother being blown up and a living hamburger that has it's own girlfriend? I wager not many. While at times the film does become a little too weird, it's absurdity helps the plot as it helps to enforce the bewilderment that being a teenager can come with; and this helps to get the film's point across. Naturally, the film features an assortment of odd and wacky characters and this is always a good thing in a film of this kind. John Cusack takes the lead role in a time before he rose to superstardom, and it's roles like these early ones that shows why he did make that transition. Cusack leads the film with great charisma and always keeps you entranced with his character. This especially helps when it comes to the more touching scenes of the movie as it enables you to feel for his character and therefore get the full benefit of the scene. While Better Off Dead wont be winning any awards, it's still a wickedly entertaining movie and if you're a fan of kitschy fun movies, you cant go wrong here.
So what was so weird about the film?! Well, apart from John Cusack, his ex-girlfriend and the "evil rival", all the other characters are almost like a combination of a normal 80s teen movie and a Salvador Dali creation! I really don't want to ruin all the many, many, many surprises, but you've got to see such things as the family's Christmas presents, the "interesting" things Lane's brother does throughout the film, the paperboy from Hell, the scene where Mrs. Smith blows up, and so many more strange bits here and there. And, most of the strange little vignettes that are irrelevant to the plot are GREAT--except for the claymation part that just seemed dull (for better claymation, see HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS).
This is inspired lunacy that unfortunately barely missed being a grand-slam because of some dull plot elements and a stupid claymation dancing hamburger. BUT, because of all the weirdness and fun, this is a wonderful film that can be enjoyed by kids or those who lived through the 80s and want to relive old times and laugh at the clothes and music!