Better Off Dead... (1985)
August 2, 2022 9:31 AM - Subscribe

Lane Meyer (John Cusack) is a teen with a peculiar family and a bizarre fixation with his girlfriend, Beth (Amanda Wyss). When Beth dumps Lane, he decides to kill himself, making bumbling attempts at suicide. Outside of his morbid endeavors, Lane spends time with his oddball buddy, Charles (Curtis Armstrong), and befriends Monique (Diane Franklin), a visiting French student. Eventually, Lane resolves to race Beth's obnoxious new beau on the ski slopes, with unexpected results.

Directed by Savage Steve Holland.

Rated 77% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Currently streaming in the US on Showtime, Fubo, and DirecTV.
posted by DirtyOldTown (39 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Throwing away a perfectly good white boy.

This is my 666th post on FF. 🤘
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:35 AM on August 2 [23 favorites]

I want my two dollars!

I'm sure there's lots of parts of this movie that have not aged well, but I have a lot of fond memories of it.
posted by nubs at 10:17 AM on August 2 [12 favorites]

This movie is almost entirely responsible for my lifelong crush on Diane Franklin.

Also: "Gee, Ricky, I'm sorry your mom blew up."
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 10:30 AM on August 2 [10 favorites]

This was my absolute favourite goofy/alt teen comedy - it snarked at everything (ski-bros!)
posted by rozcakj at 10:42 AM on August 2 [1 favorite]

Everybody wants some.
posted by bondcliff at 10:47 AM on August 2 [3 favorites]

This is one of those movies that I feel like I have seen since it's such an important Gen-X touchstone and I have read many things about it, but actually, I'm not sure I have ever seen it.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:09 AM on August 2 [3 favorites]

It's one of the problems with being a relatively young and very rural Gen-Xer -- I was really too little to see many of the seminal 80s movies in theatres. I would have been only 8 when this came out. But VHS tapes were precious and expensive and we lived far from the nearest Blockbuster. By the time we got cable TV in my teens, this might have occasionally shown up on TV, but you'd have to get lucky to watch it.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:12 AM on August 2

I've already talked about this movie before on the blue, here and here. It was fun, if a bit scattershot (I don't even remember the skiing bit, being distracted by stuff like the burger stop-motion animation--I always got the impression that Savage Steve Holland was a frustrated animator), and I identified with the paperboy who just wanted his two dollars, since I had the same problem when I had a route. Come on, man! Two fucking dollars.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:16 AM on August 2 [1 favorite]

Savage Steve Holland wasn't a frustrated animator - it's where he's actually worked most of his career. He animated the Whammies on Press Your Luck and had a show called EEK! The Cat that was on for multiple years on Fox Kids. He still works in animation I believe
posted by jkosmicki at 11:55 AM on August 2 [6 favorites]

The skiing stuff in this is always conflated in my head with Hot Dog, a 1984 film that most definitely will not have aged well.
posted by nubs at 11:56 AM on August 2 [3 favorites]

The skiing stuff in this is always conflated in my head with Hot Dog, a 1984 film that most definitely will not have aged well.

One of the only things I remember about that movie was a drink called "The Leg Spreader" so I'm guessing, yeah, probably hasn't held up.
posted by bondcliff at 12:12 PM on August 2

Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn.
posted by Tabitha Someday at 12:23 PM on August 2 [14 favorites]

Yeah some parts haven't aged well but I love this movie for some of the truly random things that happen, such as the drag-racing brothers.

It could have gone a hundred ways on typical 80s Japanese stereotypes but instead they're a pair, one who learned English from ABC's Wide World of Sports and both dress like Howard Cosell.

And yes, my lifelong crush on Diane Franklin was cemented here as well.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:46 PM on August 2 [6 favorites]

I can say without hyperbole that Ricky's entrance to the dance is the greatest entrance in the history of civilization.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:20 PM on August 2 [4 favorites]

Monique Junot: I figured if we had nothing to say to each other he would get bored; go away. But instead he uses it as an excuse to put his testicles all over me.

Lane Myer: Excuse me?

Monique Junot: You know, like octopus? Testicles?

Lane Myer: Ohhh..."Tentacles." N.T. "Tentacles"; big difference.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:24 PM on August 2 [2 favorites]

I thought this movie was fantastic when I was a kid, but yeah, judging by my memories of its kinda raunchy, proto-Family Guy vibe I'm guessing it's full of cringeworthy stuff now. I don't remember any rape jokes, but if it's a comedy in the 80s you know they're in there someplace!

It's kind of puzzling how a guy could direct a couple of movies that are so widely beloved but then end up spending the rest of his life working in children's TV. (I remember seeing Savage Steve Holland's directing credit on a few episodes of Phil of the Future, a relentlessly goofy kids' show that was much better than it needed to be.) I wonder what happened there. For that matter, what the hell happened to John Cusack?
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:41 PM on August 2

This one of those movies I can watch again and again and not get tired of it.
posted by COD at 3:23 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]

“I’ve been going to this high school for seven years; I’m no dummy.”
posted by Mister Moofoo at 5:58 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]

This is such a strange movie.

Mostly what I remember of it is "I WANT MY TWO DOLLARS!" kid, which I am unfortunately reminded of every time my office is told to charge someone a petty-ass three dollars to change things after the deadline.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:23 PM on August 2 [4 favorites]

For that matter, what the hell happened to John Cusack?

A question I've been asking myself for several years now.

(I do have a wackadoo theory that he was blacklisted by Harvey Weinstein somehow - Weinstein produced the film Grace Is Gone, in which John starred as the widower of a woman killed in Iraq who has to somehow break the news to his daughters, and did remarkably well in it - and Weinstein was talking about making a big push for him to get an Oscar nom that year. But that's the point at which his luck seems to have turned; so I have this weird hunch that he saw Harvey pull some kind of shit and called him on it, and Weinstein just sort of blacklisted him the way he did Mira Sorvino and Ashley Judd. I have no proof but my own instincts, but the timeline fits.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:02 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]

“Fronch fries.”
posted by DiscourseMarker at 8:05 PM on August 2 [5 favorites]

For that matter, what the hell happened to John Cusack?

There's also the recurring gossip that Cusack is just a huuuuuuge asshole. When I've seen him interviewed, I felt like I'd like him, so I don't know if I believe that. But it's not an uncommon thing that people say.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:09 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]

A few things:

a) I am also a member of the Diane Franklin Crush Club because of this movie
b) This movie is also responsible (along with Valley Girl) for my crush on Elizabeth "E.G." Daily, seen here as the singer at the dance (but best known as a voice actress, performing "Rugrats"' Tommy Pickles and "The Powderpuff Girls"' Buttercup, among others)
c) The song Daily sings, "One Way Love", just got a rerecorded release
d) Dan Schneider, who played Ricky, went on to a successful career producing shows for Nickelodeon (to the point where has was referred to as "the Norman Lear of children's television"), until they parted ways with him in 2018.
e) John Cusack was recently on the Amazon Prime series "Utopia", and was last seen in (a few) theaters in the generally-well-accepted Western "Never Grow Old"
posted by hanov3r at 9:09 PM on August 2 [2 favorites]

Oh, dear. I had forgotten about the creepiness with the math teacher.
posted by hanov3r at 9:44 PM on August 2

I'm sure there's lots of parts of this movie that have not aged well, but I have a lot of fond memories of it.

As far as 80s movies go, it's pretty good.
We recently watched it on family movie night[1] as part of the project to introduce the younger generation to movies their parents quote constantly and there were really no parts where we went "Oooo...that's not appropriate".

There are some fat jokes, dudes get a bit handsy, a woman loses her top for no particular reason, etc.

But on the other hand, Monique is presented as someone with agency, is definitely competent, and generally looks out for herself.
Lane is basically a lovable loser that seems generally content to live and let live, doesn't do weird things to get the girl.

[1] Coincidentally, right before visiting "Dooj-eeer Stadium" for the first time.
posted by madajb at 10:33 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]

One of my most vivid 'Wow, we really understand each other's media references' relationship moments was
"You're getting really upset telling me about this situation. Are you asking for me to do something about it? Or is this an 'out on the lawn throwing lemons at a STOP sign' situation?"
posted by bartleby at 11:25 PM on August 2

My favorite gag from the movie that rarely gets mentioned:
Lane is at the pro shop to replace a ski broken earlier in the movie.

Smitty, the proprietor of the shop, comes out to give him the replacement and is revealed to be in a wheelchair, sporting a neck brace and plaster casts on both arms.

Lane reacts in surprise and asks what happened.

"..I was trying to ski the K-12. Y'know, after the Olympics everything looked so damned easy.."
posted by Nerd of the North at 11:30 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]

Two oft-used quotes we once employed to deflate people who were:
a) trying and failing to 'act tough'
"[schlipf*] You would be wise to do as Mother says, Lane Meyer!"
b) trying and failing to be 'sophisticated':
"Fronch Fries, Fronch dressing, and to drink - Perrou!"

*that sound that's not a sniff through the nose, but of sucking saliva off the teeth? Often through braces? Is there an onomatopoeia for that?
posted by bartleby at 11:38 PM on August 2 [2 favorites]

Somehow my brother and I came to possess the VHS tape of this. Maybe we borrowed it from a friend? We watched it every single day that summer.

It's alive! [maniacal laughter]

One of those movies that somehow throws in all kinds of random jokes (the garbage truck, the drag race, the animated burger, Ricky's mom) while still managing to have a working story.

If anything the most 80s cringe thing in the movie is John Cusack playing the sax on their date.
posted by kokaku at 2:02 AM on August 3 [1 favorite]

This movie is almost entirely responsible for my lifelong crush on Diane Franklin.

Have I got the book for you:

Diane Franklin:The Excellent Adventures of the Last American, French-Exchange Babe of the 80s
posted by blueberry at 2:18 AM on August 3 [1 favorite]

My friends and I were obsessed with that movie when it came out, and we watched it so many times. Though, we preferred the "other" $2 quote:

"Sorry Johnny I don't have a dime."
"Didn't ask for a dime..." (pulls out switchblade which turns out to be a comb) "$ tip."

I remember special ordering the soundtrack from the local mall record store (Camelot Music I think?) but had to get it on cassette as I recall. It was the Fixx connection, which I was also obsessed with at the time.
posted by sevenless at 9:46 AM on August 3

posted by kirkaracha at 6:55 PM on August 3

404. :-(
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 8:23 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]

Man, I love that movie. I'm not sure how many times I've seen it, but it's a lot. As dumb teen movies go, it's weird. Gags about suicide. Set pieces like the pigburger fantasia that do nothing to advance the story. An antagonist named Stalin. Visual gags that aren't over-explained, or explained at all, just to pile more on. All that stuff just tossed in a blender. Somehow it works.
posted by adamrice at 9:17 AM on August 4

"It has raisins in it. You like raisins." is a thing I say a LOT.
posted by hanov3r at 10:20 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]

Dan Schneider, who played Ricky, went on to a successful career producing shows for Nickelodeon (to the point where has was referred to as "the Norman Lear of children's television"), until they parted ways with him in 2018.

Looks like Jennette McCurdy (from Nickelodeon's iCarly) might have something to say about that.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:29 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]

Just watched this for the first time. It does have some fatphobia, but most of the other boorishness is portrayed as bad behavior. A fun romp.

Another noticeable eighties thing is the skiing technique. Man those knees are tight.

We were also trying to figure out where it is set— it looks awfully green and sunny at Christmas for being so close to a challenging ski area. Supposedly somewhere in Northern California, but if they live anywhere that green in December they must have a significant drive to get to the slopes..

The whole scene with the skiing on one leg does remind me of a powder day about 15 years ago at Heavenly though. It was weekday, and so there weren’t many people around. We were looping a lift with expert only terrain, and there was some dude we kept seeing around who had only one ski. Finally we were on the same run and so we asked what was up; he was stopped and looking around in a way that suggested he had just lost the ski (but at this point we knew it had been missing for hours). He said “yeah I lost it first run this morning, but it’s a powder day and this is a good run so I’ll just keep skiing it and if I find the ski, great. Not going to miss the powder.”

Ok dude, you do you. I like having both skis, personally.
posted by nat at 9:11 PM on September 16 [1 favorite]

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