A young manís girlfriend dumps him for the most popular guy in school driving him tosuicide. Barely coping with his life gone to pot, he finds an ally in the beautiful foreignexchange student from next door, and the inspiration to win back his lost love.
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Better Off Dead lets you know pretty early on that it has no intention of being takenseriously, which is good, both because it makes room for all the insane wackiness thatmakes the film so deliciously ďFrom the 80s,Ē and it saves it from being just another oneof the thousands upon thousands of movies about high school students whose significantothers wrong them, the number of which is positively stupefying. Honestly, sometimes Ithink I missed something important when I was a teenager, because I didnít even like thegirls I dated in high school, yet every high school relationship in films is moremeaningful than some real life peoplesí marriage. But I digress.
Lane Meyer is the hero of the story, a high school student who is charmingly obsessedwith his girlfriend Beth. I say charmingly because Lane is played by John Cusack, a manso insanely likable you canít help but feel crushed right along with him when Beth dumpshim for the most popular guy in school, Roy Stalin (canít you just taste the 80s comingoff of this movie?), the captain of the schoolís ski team and archetype for high schooldouches in movies. This is the sort of ridiculous plot point that can turn the taste of a filmsour pretty quickly if itís not done right. I mean honestly, has there ever been a girl soprofoundly shallow as to dump her loving boyfriend because another guy is a betterskier? And really, captain of the ski team? How is it realistic that the guy is perenniallythe most popular guy in school despite only being able to impress everybody 3-6 monthsout of the year? But like I said, itís clearly not supposed to be taken seriously, which iswhy they get away with such far-out story elements as a paper boy with more of apsychotic fixation on getting paid for a subscription than Robert De Niro had on gettingrevenge on Nick Nolte (in the movie Cape Fear I mean).
And so, utterly devastated, Lane resolves to kill himself. Now, I know what youírethinking, this is supposed to be a comedy, and with a PG rating no less. But keep in mindthis movie was made in 1985 when teen suicide was still funny.Anyway, after several failures at ending his life and the events of various wacky subplots,Lane finds himself more mired in the hell of his everyday life than ever. A dad whodoesnít understand him despite reading several books on how to understand teenagers, alittle brother 9 years younger than him with whoís better with women than Hugh Hefner,and a mom who routinely cooks up monsters from science fiction movies for dinner.
Enter the cute foreign exchange student from across the street, Monique, who despitebeing beautiful and sweet, isnít readily considered as a romantic option by Lane becauseheís still hung up on his girlfriend, and because Laneís girlfriend is a blonde andMonique is a brunette. She makes it her mission to help Lane win back his girlfriend, aswell as his self-respect, through sequences of drag racing against Korean siblings ofwhom one talks like Howard Cosell, rebuilding Laneís beat up old Camaro, and ofcourse, running like hell from psychotic paper boys.
Overall itís really a fun, spirited, unique film that makes for great viewing. Itís not awork of comedy genius, certainly. You may find scenes of stop motion-animated fastfood and an 8 year-old boy building a space shuttle distracting and possibly off-putting,but itís funny and pretty original, and it speaks to the insecurities, awkwardness andconfusion that everybody remembers from high school (and some of us remember fromlast week, but Iím not asking for sympathy). Just kick back and let this one take you backto the days when your biggest worries were Algebra tests, your dadís making you get asummer job, and the threat of nuclear annihilation by the Reds.