When I sit back and think of movies from the 1980’s, I remember the quirky flick where the geek gets the girl, where everyone skied, drove mom’s station wagon, dressed like they were a member of WHAM, and at least one family in the neighborhood had a foreign exchange student. That’s what I love about Better Off Dead, it has them all, in bunches.
John Cusack plays Lane Meyer, the typical loser kid who somehow scored the hottest girl in school while she was still new to town. Unfortunately, she soon realizes that Lane is well below her social standing and trades up, choosing instead to date the captain of the ski team, and local blowhard, Roy Stalin. Lane thinks the only way to win her back is to beat Roy at his own game, by winning a ski race down the dangerous K-12, a trail that only Roy has managed to ski. The movie follows Lane as he tries to simultaneously cope with being a teen, get over his grief by attempting various methods of suicide, and avoid the stalking paperboy who wants his two dollars, not to mention catching the eye of the French exchange student across the street.
Classic 80’s Moments
As I stated above, Better Off Dead is filled with just about every clichéd 1980’s movie scenes.
– What could a movie in the 1980’s be without having not one, but two totally pointless scenes featuring claymation characters. In this case, during a daydream where Lane feels like a mad scientist working at the local burger joint, Lane invents a Eddie Van Halen hamburger, complete with red and white striped guitar.
– Another moment installs the classic pop culture reference of Howard Cosell, in this case, in the form of one half of a pair of Asian brothers. Apparently after moving to the states, one speaks no English, while the other channels Cosell after learning everything he knows by watching ABC’s Wide World Of Sports. The brothers pop up numerous times, as they attempt to goad Lane into street racing.
– Where would we be in a 1980’s movie without the geek brother that locks himself in his room and somehow manages to score with all the ladies? In Better Off Dead, Lane’s brother does all sorts of things, including building a space shuttle out of household appliances, but it his way with the ladies that makes him a special character. Looking like Alfred E. Neuman, Lane’s brother makes his mark when he acquires the book “How To Pick Up Trashy Women”, and proceeds to have a little party in his room ala Hugh Hefner.
– Spoiler Alert! To top it all off, Lane needs the help of the French foreign exchange student to pull off his skiing marvel. Along the way, the two discover that they have what they need in each other, after learning “the international language of love”. Every 80’s movie needed to have the guy fall for the right girl, not the popular one, and Better Off Dead is no exception.
Better Off Dead makes its mark because it is also the classic Cusack film, a quirky guy who has all sorts of idiosyncrasies he needs to overcome, only to discover that he’s really not that bad a person at all. The message has held up well over the years, even if the fashion and some of the references are dated. Still, it’s worth the nostalgia feeling of watching any time you’re looking to flashback for a bit, and it definitely deserves to get picked up before any of the so-called John Hughes classics.
Better Off Dead can be found at a number of movie retailers, up to and including the following:
Better Off Dead, IMDB.com