Growing up, I spent a lot of time watching random movies on TV. For a few hours after school and even longer during summer break, I would plant myself on the couch and just watch whatever was on. One of those movies I watched multiple times as a kid was Better Off Dead, the 1985 John Cusack movie about a teenager who becomes suicidal after being dumped by his girlfriend.
I recently decided to go back and watch Better Off Dead for the first time in at least 20 years, and it was an eye-opening experience to say the very least. There were so many things I failed to pick up on as a kid (both nuanced and overt), and rewatching it as an adult felt like experiencing it for the first time all over again. Here are some thoughts I had after revisiting it all these years later.
First, I Had No Memory Of Better Off Dead Being A Black Comedy
As I said in the introduction, there was a lot about Better Off Dead that went over my head when I was a kid, including the film’s tone. All these years, I remembered Savage Steve Holland’s movie being just a normal ‘80s teen comedy about a high schooler trying to win back his ex-girlfriend by challenging her new boyfriend to a ski race. So, you can imagine how thrown off and stoked I was when I realized it is actually an absurd black comedy full of random and incredible jokes throughout.
The off-putting characters (like all the grown men trying to go on a date with Amanda Wyss’ Beth Truss), John Cusack’s Lane Meyer’s various suicide attempts, and all-around absurd tone of the movie all give Better Off Dead a strangely funny tone, making it a unique experience.
Lane’s Mom’s Lack Of Awareness Is Hilarious
Rewatching Better Off Dead, I couldn’t get enough of Lane’s mom Jenny Meyer, played masterfully by Kim Darby. Whether she’s trying to get her family to eat one of her monstrous culinary concoctions (more on those in a bit) or failing to pick up on various situations in her everyday life, she steals pretty much every scene she’s in, which is no easy task.
The strange quirkiness of Jenny adds so much to the movie, especially whenever she’s trying something out in the kitchen. The boiled bacon because her husband doesn’t like the grease, the raisin dessert because Lane likes raisins, and the “French” dinner for Monique Junot (Diane Franklin) are all objectively terrible, but she just can’t pick up on it. The best part is that she’s so nice and pleasant about it, you can’t hate on her for it.
The Claymation Cheeseburger Sequence Is So Absurd And Random
As was the case with One Crazy Summer, which came out the following year, Better Off Dead is full of animated sequences crafted by writer and director Savage Steve Holland. However, none hold a candle to the random yet great stop-motion sequence when one of Lane Meyer’s hamburgers comes to life and starts playing Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some” with a guitar that looks exactly like the one played by the late Eddie Van Halen.
Everything about this scene is a romp of a good time. From Rocko (Chuck Mitchell) telling Lane how to build the patties (after putting out his cigar in a ball of meat and cleaning his fake tooth in a cup of coffee), to the Frankenstein sequence to bring the patty to life, to the claymation burger being a lifeguard for fries in a vat of hot grease, everything is all killer no filler in this nearly five minute-long sequence.
I Completely Forgot About Mr. Kerber Asking Lane’s Permission To Take Beth On A Date
One of the most over-the-top recurring jokes throughout Better Off Dead is everyone being obsessed with Beth Truss. While it is Lane Meyer who is mostly pining over the girl who dumped him after six months of dating, everyone from Barney Rubble to Lane’s teacher, Mr. Kerber (Vincent Schiavelli) is also obsessed with the high schooler and wants to ask her out. I remember Lane and his ridiculous number of pictures of Beth, but I completely forgot about the part where Mr. Kerber asks Lane’s permission to date his ex.
This is clearly a joke in line with the overall tone of Better Off Dead, but I was not expecting for a teacher to hold a student behind in class just so that he could attempt to date another one of his students. Like, what? Add that to another aspect of the movie that wouldn’t fly with a PG rating today.
I’m Still Trying To Figure Out The Obsession With Ski Movies In The 1980s
One thing I have never been able to figure out is the obsession with ski movies in the 1980s. It seems like there were dozens of comedies, dramas, and thrillers that involved skiing one way or another, including Better Off Dead. The trope, which has been parodied by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, is something that I enjoy watching, but don’t really understand how it came to be.
I still can’t tell if Lane Meyer being admittedly pretty damn good on the slopes is something that is played earnestly or as a joke about skiing in teen comedies during this era. Sure, Lane isn’t going to be competing for a medal at the Winter Olympics, but his skills on the powder are something to behold.
Ok, I Have To Talk About The Movie Ending At Dodger Stadium
If you were to tell me that Better Off Dead, a movie primarily set in Northern California, would end with the hero and his love interest sitting atop a black Camaro at home plate at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, I wouldn’t know what to believe. But that happens. That actually happens. After winning the ski competition (and defeating Ricky Smith in a ski-pole sword fight), Lane and Monique go to Dodger Stadium (Monique is a massive Dodgers fan) where they share a kiss in the same spot Kirk Gibson would hit a tide-turning home run in the 1988 World Series a few years later.
As wild as that sounds, it only gets more over-the-top a few moments later when Johnny Gasparini (Demian Slade), the paperboy hounding Lane for his two dollars throughout the movie, is seen riding towards him on the diamond. Mind you, this is after the persistent youth flies over the side of a mountain. Talk about a very on-brand way to end this absurd movie.
Overall, I had a great time revisiting Better Off Dead all these years later, and the whole experience gave me a greater appreciation for the movie. While we probably won’t find any titles as ridiculous on the 2023 movie schedule, you can always revisit this gem with a Paramount+ subscription.