Better Off Dead (1985) – Savage Steve Holland

John Cusack and Savage Steve Holland did two movies together, Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer, and both of them came along at just the right point in my life, I was a teenager at the time, and could totally relate to all things Cusack’s characters were going through.

In Better Off Dead Cusack plays high school student Lane Meyer, who is very in love with his girlfriend, Beth (Amanda Wyss), and is a little obsessive about it. So it comes as a bit of a surprise and downer, when she drops him without warning to begin a relationship with the high school ski star and team captain, Roy Stalin (Aaron Dozier).

Lane has some problems letting go, and moving on, so he becomes a little suicidal, despite the fact that the foreign exchange student across the street, Monique (Diane Franklin) has eyes for him (and honestly who didn’t crush on Franklin in this movie and in Bill & Ted’s?).

The story follows him through problems at school, a first job, and dealing with the fact that his much younger brother, Badger (Scooter Stevens) is much smarter than he is. And his family owes the very persistent newspaper boy, Johnny (Demian Slade) two dollars.

Looking for something to impress and possibly win Beth back, he challenges Stalin to a downhill ski race and with Monique and Charles De Mar (Curtis Armstrong) in his corner.

Filled with sight gags, outrageous moments, and all too recognisable occurrences for those who have ever been teenagers, or currently has one. His parents (David Ogden Stiers and Kim Darby) are completely oblivious to his problems, and everything around him seems taken to the extreme.

This one still makes me laugh aloud every time I watch it, and not only does it delight me anew, but I also recall my own teenaged years, and the things I went through. It’s got a very 80s soundtrack and is very much a film of its time. Sure, I think some of it would appeal to some of the younger folk today, but it’s definitely something an X-er will recognise.

Cusack is great, knowing how to work the charm, humour and angst into one performance, and serves to ground some of the more ridiculous humour – and there’s a lot of it; his mother’s cooking, the ongoing car race competition, the paperboy, the neighbours across the street, and the fact that his best friend De Mar is even more screwed up than he seems to be.

Pair this one with One Crazy Summer,and enjoy a silly high school escapade with some animation, both hand drawn and stop motion, some 80s tunes, and a great sense of humour. That or, you’re Better Off Dead.


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