’80s gem isn’t ‘Better off Dead'

Lindsay Adams

Director Savage Steve Holland revitalizes the teenage comedy

Watching “Better off Dead” is a little like watching an unpleasant neighbor drink lighter fluid then light up a cigarette—the experience is explosive, shocking and entertaining.

The experience is only one of many growing pains that befall hapless teenager Lane Myers, who watches passively before condoling the neighbor’s son saying, “Gee I’m real sorry your mom blew up, Ricky”.

John Cusack gives a charming, early career performance as the bewildered teenage protagonist, Lane Myers. Girlfriend Beth, played by Amanda Wyss, breaks up with him by saying, “Lane, I think it’d be in my best interest if I dated somebody more popular. Better looking. Drives a nicer car.”

Lane then decides life is not worth living and attempts suicide multiple times, but each attempt is foiled by his family. His mother is clueless. His father is convinced he does drugs, and his younger brother is a genius interested in trashy older women.

Once Beth starts dating the popular, obnoxious captain of the high school ski team, Roy Stalin, things get worse. Lane challenges Roy to a ski competition on the terrifying slope called the K-12.

His only friend, Charles de Mar (Curtis Armstrong), snorts an odd variety of substances like Jell-O, whipped cream and snow, because he “can’t even get real drugs.”

He also drinks “eggnog my brother makes with lighter fluid.”

He has been in high school for more than seven years, offering Lane deep words of wisdom like, “Dying when you’re not really sick is really sick, you know.”

Adding insult to injury, Lane’s car is a piece of a junk and he constantly loses street races to two Korean brothers, one of whom learned English from iconic sports journalist Howard Cosell, and offers off-color narration of Lane’s street racing misfortunes.

His life slowly turns around after he meets Monique, played by Diane Franklyn, a cute and spunky French exchange student living across the street with Lane’s neighbors, Mrs. Smith and her son Ricky (Laura Waterbury and Daniel Schneider). The Smiths are the worst host family imaginable, and Monique pretends that she cannot speak English to avoid communicating with them.

Monique and Lane slowly form a friendship. She turns out to be a whiz at car repair, helping him repair his broken-down ’67 Chevy Camaro.

Monique tells him, “I think all you need is a small taste of success, and you will find it suits you.”

“Better off Dead” is kitschy and bizarre. The dialogue is witty beyond the usual teenage comedy fare and the soundtrack is filled with classic ’80s pop and rock.

The film is amusingly dated, but still hip and easily relatable to anyone who has ever experienced tortured teenage angst. Every event is exaggerated, which is how life seems to a melodramatic teenager.

Lane is also harassed everywhere he goes by an angry paperboy whom he shorted a tip in the past. The paperboy is always bicycling after him shouting, “I want my two dollars.”

“Better off Dead” is off-kilter and funny with its look at suburban life and the model family. It is crazy and imaginative. There is so much freedom because the film is unconfined by reality. The audience never knows what may happen next. “Better off Dead” may be funny and strange, but above all else, it is an original take on the usually cliché teenage comedy.

[email protected]