Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Better Off Dead

Hey internet! Welcome back to Teenage Wasteland.

Let’s talk about regrets. When we were teens we probably all did things that we regret today. Whether it’s a hairstyle that “seemed cool at the time”, or getting absolutely trashed at a party and not remembering what you did or who you did. The point is we all have them, even the actors that we looked up to have regrets.

Oh man, what the hell did I do last night?

John Cusack’s, for example, is Better Off Dead. A quirky comedy about a guy who attempts suicide after his girlfriend dumps him for the captain of the ski team. It was directed by then newcomer Savage Steve Holland who based the movie partially on his own experience with a break up. Unfortunately for Savage, it wouldn’t be his last bad break up.

Original artwork by Drew Struzan

As the story goes, during the filming of One Crazy Summer, Savage's follow-up to Better Off Dead in which John also starred, Savage screened the finished product of Better Off Dead to the cast and crew. John supposedly walked out about 20 minutes into the screening and never came back.

I imagine it went something like this.

 The next day, Savage said that John came up to him and said:
You know, you tricked me. Better Off Dead is the worst thing I have ever seen and I will never trust you as a director ever again, so don't speak to me.
According to Savage in an interview he did on The Sneeze, John went on to say that Savage "sucked" and that Better Off Dead was "the worst thing he had ever seen" and that Savage used him and made a fool out of him." The experience made Savage not care about movies anymore. Geez, way to stomp on the guy's dreams, Cusack!

And the award for biggest douche goes to...

So what exactly is so bad in this movie that would make the star react that way when it apparently opened to positive critical reviews and has established a fairly strong cult fanbase? Well, let's take a look and find out.

This should be fun...

We begin the movie with a short little cartoon that seemingly has nothing to do with anything except that it is a cute way to introduce the title sequence and main credits. It also gives a pretty good feel for the tone of the film and that is that it is going to be goofy.

Now we are introduced to our main protagonist, Lane Meyer as we tour through his bedroom and find out his interests...Dear God!

That is every stalker's dream room.

The dad says that he worries that Lane might be a little obsessed with his girlfriend. A little? A little? Have you looked in your son's bedroom lately? He has pictures of her all over his room! Some of them look like they were taken without her knowledge.

Stalker alert! Stalker alert!

Ok, it's official, Lane is unbalanced. Just call the men in white and have it done with already. He's already a stalker but I think he's one step away from having bodies buried under the floorboards of his house while he masturbates to their pictures.

Oh. My. GOD!

Lane's family is a quirky bunch. His Dad's got a vendetta against the paper boy, his Mom is batty as hell and cooks about as well as Calvin's Mom and his brother likes to collect prizes from cereal boxes and apparently pick up loose women. The kid is like 9 or 10, is this normal? I guess they really do grow up fast.

Lane's totally normal family. Honest.

He also has a friend who is obsessed with finding the perfect high.

So, in other words, more fuel to the future serial killer fire for Lane. Let's face it, he wasn't going to turn out normal surrounded by a bunch of nuts like this.

Back to the story itself, Lane is going to try out for the ski team to impress his girlfriend, Beth. Beth, however, is contemplating breaking up with Lane as she has eyes for the captain of the ski team, Roy Stallin.

Don't hold back, Beth, we all know you're dumping him because you found the doll he made out of your hair in his underwear drawer.

And what would a teen movie be without the obligatory girl next door? Monique is a French exchange student who is staying with a young Norman Bates and his mother.

Poor girl.

I'll let you all in on a little secret about her that you'll probably never in a million years guess, she likes Lane.

While on the way to tryouts, Lane is interrupted by a sub plot involving two Asians who always kick his ass in street racing while one of them talks like Howard Cosell. Of course, Lane loses miserably because he's the underdog in the story and nothing goes his way in the begining. Nothing!

Undeterred, Lane arrives at the tryouts with his best friend and his girl at his side but what's this? Stallin is hitting on Beth...and she is flirting back right in front of Lane. That hussy! Ladies and gentlemen, we have our antagonist for the movie:

Oh noes! He...mildly made fun of his name. This will not stand!

This being the beginning of the movie and all, Lane fails the tryout and Beth dumps his sorry ass for greener pastures. Good for her. Though I'm not sure Stallin is much of an improvement but at least he's not a stalker...that we know of.
Dejected and frustrated, all Lane wants to do is go home but he is once again interrupted by the subplot. This is it, folks. It's time for him to claim some victory after suffering through so much defeat and failure today. Go ahead, Lane. Get your pride back!
Damn! If only he wasn't so awkward and had a better car...
Things are looking pretty bad for Lane now. Dumped, defeated and depressed, he contemplates killing himself.
But he fails at that too.
Side note, Savage himself actually attempted suicide after his girlfriend dumped him. He actually attempted something similar to this scene which he explains in the interview he did with The Sneeze.
I went into the garage, and I put an extension cord on a pipe, and I'm on a garbage can, and I'm thinking "Should I do this? Maybe this isn't a good idea." Anyway, it was a plastic garbage can, and my weight just like crashed through it, and I fell, and the pipe broke!
And it starts pouring water everywhere. And I'm basically in a garbage can, drowning. And my mom comes and, and my mom starts yelling at me for breaking a pipe.
I'm gonna be totally honest with you guys, I really wish that had happened in the movie instead. It just sounds hilarious, funny how truth is often better than fiction. Anyways, if we're keeping count, Lane now sucks at keeping a girlfriend, racing, skiing and suicide. What else can go wrong for our intrepid hero?
Aaaaaaah!!!! Demon child!
Apparently, Lane's dad is a bit of a cheapskate and hasn't paid his paper boy the measly two dollars he owes. So now the kid is coming after Lane...with a vengeance! Lane just can't seem to catch a break.
Seeing how hurt and dejected Lane is, his friend Charles offers to help him out. Lane thinks skiing the K12 like Stallin will win Beth back but Charles talks him out of it because it's dangerous or haunted or something like that.
Oh yeah, Monique is still in this. Life isn't going much better for her either. She's stuck living with the social reject, Ricky Schmidt and his mother and she is beginning to think that Americans really like their jell-o...
Really, really like their jell-o
Meanwhile, Lane tries to ask out another girl to prove to a drawing of Beth and Stallin (don't ask) that he can. I'll give you one guess as to what happens next.
He fails.
Lane once again finds himself thinking he'd be better off dead (name drop!) as he stands over the railing of a bridge over traffic. Charles shows up once again to offer his help and support.
Awwww! What a great friend.
Since Lane is still alive, Charles offers to help him learn to ski the K12 so that he can beat Stallin. Charles offers the helpful advice to "Go that way, really fast." and "If something gets in your way, turn!" Well those directions are clear as mud, I'm sure Lane will have no problems with the K12 now. Who knew skiing was so easy?
Dude, you french fried when you should have pizza'd.
If you french fry when you should pizza, you're gonna have a bad time.
If you can imagine, things only get worse for Lane and Monique at Christmas. Lane tries to give Beth a small teddy bear but oh noes! Stallin already got her a life size teddy bear. Aww, cheer up there, Lane. It's not the size, it's how you use it.
Poor Monique is still stuck with the Bates family and recieves a portrait of Ricky as a gift.
Worst. Gift. Ever!
It isn't until the school dance that Lane finally meets Monique. Ah, the magic of high school dances, the place where anything can happen. Romance, bands with stage effects? Seriously, look at this:
That's some high production values for a high school dance.
Live performance and a smoke machine? We were lucky if we had a gym floor to dance on and a few balloons here and there. If there was this much entertainment at my high school dances, I might have actually considered going. Maybe.
So, of course, Lane and Monique start to strike up a friendship despite the fact that she doesn't speak a word of English. Before they can really attempt to talk, I guess, Monique is dragged away by Ricky and his mother. Lane is batting a zero so far, let's see if he can get any lower.
Aaaaaah!!!! Group of demon paperboys!
Next, Lane's father gets him a job at a local burger joint. His boss is a disgusting pig but that just goes with the theme of the restaurant:
Here piggy, piggy, piggy!
Now, up until this point, the movie has been goofy but relatively normal. This is where the movie shifts its gears for a bit and enters the land of Mindfuckery. This scene just comes out of nowhere. I'm not entirely sure what to make of it or why it is in there but it's there, in all its creepy glory:

I mean, what is that? Why in God's name do we have to look at it? Dancing hamburgers with faces that lipsync to Van Halen's 'Everybody Wants Some' is just plain weird and unsettling. How many drugs did everyone take before making that scene? If this scene were within the first 20 minutes shown to the cast and crew that fateful night, I'd blame it solely for John Cusack's freakout. Then again, he did film it and act like that, what the hell did he think the movie would turn out like? My guess as to why this happens in the movie is that Lane is high on pig grease fumes which makes him hallucinate. My guess as to why this scene was put in the movie is that they needed filler to make the movie longer...and somebody really liked that song.
Moving on from that unsettling experience, Lane once again attempts to ski the K12 and fails. Overwhelmed with his ability to suck at everything in life, Lane decides to give suicide another go, this time by lighting himself on fire. He covers himself in blankets and a tie around his head, for some reason and grabs some lighter fluid. Before he can put this brilliant plan into action, he is interrupted by his mother who makes him come to dinner because they have guests, Ricky Schmidt, his mother and Monique. In honor of their French exchange student guest, Lane's mother has cooked them a "French" meal

"Franch" food, anyone?
Monique still thinks Lane is cute despite the fact that he is dressed like an insane hippie. The girl's got a type, I'll give her that.
Ricky's mother accidently drinks the lighter fluid that Lane left on the table and explodes when she lights her cigarette. This is getting to be pretty dark but it's ok because according to Lane, the doctors said she'd be ok as long as she didn't eat any spicy food for a while.
Hey, Stallin is back! This guy is just awesome, how anyone can be intimidated by him is beyond my understanding but at least he's damn entertaining.
He's just so intimidating, isn't he?
Lane finally grows a pair and stands up to Stallin. The challenge has finally been thrown down and it's the moment we've all been waiting for, the inevitable showdown between protagonist and antagonist where the underdog will be sure to finally emerge, victorious. Lane's challenge is a race between him and Stallin down the K12, winner gets...bragging rights or something. There isn't much of a prize other than for the person to be able to shout "Haha! I beat you!" but there you have it, the battle has begun and of course you know what that means...
80s montage action!
But before that, Monique decides to boost his confidence a bit. While Lane is out fixing his skis for the big race, Monique sets to work fixing up his camaro that hasn't ever worked. So, Monique has a French accent, is cute as a button, likes Lane even though he acts like a dork and she can fix classic cars? Score for Lane!
Not only that but it turns out she was just faking not being able to speak English. She claims it was because the less you speak in the Schmidt household, the better. Yeah, I can agree with that.
They bond while fixing up his car and Monique encourages him to race the Asians again to give him a "taste of success." With the Camaro fixed up, he rolls out into the street looking all stylish and cool. Turns out, the Asians are no match for his Camaro, and being caught off guard hanging out with their girlfriends. Lane is such a good sport.
To thank her for all the work she did on his car, Lane cooks her microwave dinners at the burger restaurant he works at because he forgot that he snuck her inside a restaurant where he could cook her real food. Well...real-ish food.
Then again, he probably didn't want to revisit this monstrosity.
He then serenades her with his mad saxophone dubbing skills because he's all class, that Lane.
The next day is the big race. Lane's finally had a taste of success by beating the Asians, he's got a new girl at his side and he's jammed weeks of training in one day through the power of a montage.
He's all set, except that one of his skis has broken and the paper boy is once again back to hunt Lane down for his two dollars. Thankfully, the paper boy conveniently chases him to the starting line just as the race has begun. With his new, masterful skills, Lane tackles the K12 on one ski and Stallin finally takes care of the demon paper boy. It is a beautiful sight.
It's a close race down the hill but, damn it, Lane is the protagonist of this story and he is due for a win. Everyone cheers for Lane, including Beth who totally never liked Stallin anyways and Lane stupidly kisses her. Monique, of course sees and leaves with Ricky and his evil mother.
Mercifully, the cliched mistaken breakup doesn't last long as Lane comes to his senses and goes after Ricky and his mother to save Monique. A wise decision, Lane. I hear Beth gets killed soon anyways.
Or maybe I'm getting my movies mixed up...
Lane and Ricky get into an epic ski pole fight. Lane once again emerges victorious and claims his prize. He carries Monique to his sweet Camaro where they ride off into the sunset or in this case, he takes her to Dodger Stadium because she mentioned she really wanted to see it and he serenades her with a saxophone dub again. Hey, when you've got a skill, you use it.
Ricky has lost Monique but it's ok because a nerdy girl conveniently shows up out of nowhere and conveniently thinks Ricky is cute. Awww, even Ricky gets a girl. A happy ending for everyone, how nice.
What? Nerdy girls can show up out of nowhere.
So, that was Better Off Dead. Is it as bad as John Cusack thinks it is? Well...yes and no. It's definitely a very goofy and oddball movie and some of the scenes could be seen as embarrassing for him. I still don't see how you could act out the scenes, supposedly help edit the movie together and be shocked at how offbeat this movie is. This movie is awkward and silly and kind of perfectly captures what it's like to be a teenager, it's not hard to see why so many people identify with it.
Personally, it took me a while to warm up to this movie. I saw this mainly because John Cusack was in it and I am a huge fan of his. I was not prepared for how goofy it would turn out to be but I laughed mainly at the discovery that this was the movie that South Park's Asspen episode was based around. That alone made it entertaining and got me interested enough to rewatch it and everytime I rewatch it, I end up enjoying it more. I love its quirky charms and its off the wall humour, I even love its weird non-sequitur scenes. It's just so much fun to sit back and relax to and it doeesn't hurt that John Cusack is just adorable in this; which is why it kind of disappointed me to learn that he actually hates this movie. I think John does himself a disservice by disregarding this movie and the director because there was so much joy that went into this movie and I kind of get where his interest in doing quirky comedies like The Ice Harvest, Grosse Pointe Blank, and High Fidelity came from when I watch Better Off Dead.
So my advice to John Cusack, should he choose to accept it or even care, is to lighten up a bit. It's really not that bad of a movie, it may not be an oscar worthy film but a lot of heart and personal experience went into it and I feel that is what makes this movie shine. If you ever see this in a video store, if those still exist, or more likely in your Netflix queue, give it a try.
Unforetunately, after John's freak out about how Better Off Dead turned out, Savage Steve kind of gave up on his follow up movie, One Crazy Summer. How did his and John's attitudes affect the film? Well, stay tuned because next time, I'm taking a look at One Crazy Summer. Thanks for visiting my Teenage Wasteland! Clips used: Better Off Dead                     South Park "Asspen" episode - Watch this episode, it is hilarious and is directly parodying Better Off Dead and perhaps a little bit of One Crazy Summer. Music used: "Montage" from South Park "Asspen" episode.


  1. Well done, Blinvy. I'm a Cusack fan but I've never seen this one... and now I don't think I need to. I prefer the ones where Joan is in the film, too.

  2. Thanks tedjones2. It's not a bad watch if you are a Cusack fan but I agree that I like the ones with Joan in them the best as well.

  3. You moron. This is one of the greatest films of the 80s. It made complete fun of all the John Hughes tripe going around at the time and Cusack was absolutely brilliant in it. I had no idea he heated the film so much - it's a cult classic and should be discovered by more people. BOOOO for this review and thumbs down.