Better Off Dead... (1985) (PG)
This review contains SPOILERS!
If you were to condense Savage Steve Holland's movie "Better Off Dead..." into a ten minute short...you could have saved yourself almost 90 minutes. This film shows how much it really sucks to be in highschool, to breakup with your lover, and to be a teenager.
Instead of a movie like "The Breakfast Club" in which you rooted for teenaged protagonists and appreciated the conversations that they were having; "Better Off Dead..." is a movie that makes its laughs by poking fun at adolescent stereotypes while still falling into a few itself.
The movie begins with Lane Meyer (John Cussack) being obsessed with his girlfriend. His wall is decorated with picture after picture of Beth (Amanda Wyss). What he doesn't know is that she is planning on dumping him for a hot, sexy ski captain. This little tidbit of information she plans on passing on to Lane after the tryouts for the ski team...the day that the film opens on.
Lane is devastated because of Beth's absence and becomes more and more emotionally unstable. If this person weren't a caricature; you'd be concerned for their mental health. Lane tries to kill himself several times and fails at each attempt: when he tries to hang himself in the garage, he gets control of himself right before his mother opens a door and pushes him off the stairs and unknowingly starts death by asphyxiation. Then he starts to jump off a bridge before his friend, Charles De Mar (Curtis Armstrong) stops him...he falls off anyway and lands in a garbage truck which leads to a semi-racist moment in which a black men comments to his friend: Now that's a real shame when folks be throwing away a perfectly good white boy like that.
In fact, the film's treatment of non-white characters is very odd. Two Asian boys drive up and attempt to race Lane several times (for no good reason, just because the film wasn't crazy enough already).
"Better Off Dead..." isn't that offensive as far as ethnicity jokes go...though it does seem to take a rather too light-hearted view of suicide.
Lane's parents are exaggerated versions of the typical mom and dad. The mother wants to cook but can't (at one point her meal gets up and walks away) and the dad tries to speak his son's language but can never say the pubescent idioms correctly.
As with most teenage movies with a male lead "Better Off Dead..." employs the thought of lost manhood. It can be regained through an act of physical exertion...in this movie's case, the skiing of a dangerous slope.
Lane thinks that if he can just manage to ski down the K-12, Beth will return to him.
In the first five minutes of the movie, it's impossible to not know what's going to happen. Monique, the cute but overlooked foreign exchange girl who lives across the street has eyes for Lane, though they don't officially meet until over half the movie is over.
"Better Off Dead..." is nothing special—deeply predictable at every turn.
However, there are some jokes that do work, most of which include Lane's parents. Yet the majority of the jokes don't work at all.
Charles De Mar is a drug addict in a town where there are no drug dealers...he gets "high" by snorting JELL-O and snow. Ricky, the boy who Monique is staying with, snorts nasal spray and is "comically" fat and awkward.
The jokes also include Lane's younger brother reading a book on how to pick up trashy women and then having a plethora of hookers over for New Year's Eve, a hat that makes Lane look like a pig, and Beth going on a date with a teacher.
"Better Off Dead..." tries to be funny by showing what the worst day in a teen's life could be and then having the viewer laugh at that. It's extremely uncomfortable in parts and innocent in others.
The script also is not convincing and is made up of awkward lines that Lane and Charles say like: Well, honk my hooter. and Dude, you're the hottest thing since sunburn.
But amidst the lame attempts at humor and the laughable romances; "Better Off Dead..." is vaguely entertaining.
The only truly enjoyable part is a young paper boy who turns into a spoof of a horror movie as he chases Lane down and demands two dollars.
Savage Steve Holland (the writer and director) admitted that "Better Off Dead..." was a semi-autobiographical work. When Holland broke up with his girlfriend, he started making depressing movies which everyone else found funny.
In truth, this is what "Better Off Dead..." should have been. It toes the line of "cutesy" way too often to do any good.
It's not funny, edgy, or likable enough.
Though it does include a scene where a hamburger comes to like a sings a song with a guitar...which, I'll admit, is something that I hadn't seen before.
Score: 2 out of 4 stars
Posted by Micah Jones