In 1985, John Cusack was a young hearthrob, the Russians were our enemies and nerds were not yet the new cool kids.
In Better Off Dead, Cusack plays Lane, Myer, an eccentric guy who loses his girlfriend Beth (Amanda Wyss) to a tall blond ski star, creatively named Roy Stalin. What follows are a series of botched suicide attempts, the best of which involves a jar of flammable fluid and a family dinner.
His parents seem hopelessly out of touch, in true teen movie fashion, but underneath the comedy lurks a darker commentary on parental cluelessness.. Lane’s brother, Badger, wordlessly schemes to get hot babes, loads of cash and a ticket to the stars in one of the best silent performances ever recorded.
When Lane is not trying to kill himself, he tries to win Beth back by training for the K12, a ski competition on the deadliest mountain around. His friend Charles (Curtis Armstrong), best known as Booger from The Revenge of the Nerds movies, hangs around and searches for the best legal high he can find, apparently unable to score actual drugs. Armstrong’s antics are the least funny subplot of the whole movie, but he is an 80s staple and his puffy-eyed gremlin face is a nostalgic icon.
Enter cute French exchange student, Monique (Diane Franklin). She moves in next door with Lane’s creepy neighbor Ricky and Ricky’s terrifying mother. With her terrible accent, embarrassing outfits and seemingly endless reserve of skills, Monique encourages Lane to ski the K12, and of course, love himself for who he is. What happens with them is predictable, but still satisfying.
Sprinkled throughout the movie are animated segments illustrating Lane’s fantasies and frustrations. These are lame, but must have been novel at the time. A lot of cheesy special effects pop up too, and thosejust add to the charm.
The highlights of the fim are Lane’s interactions with the paperboy. After the movie, just try to stop saying “I want my two dollars” every time somebody ticks you off.
Carrie Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org