Note: This review is of a movie that contains attempts at suicide the making fun of those attempts. If this offends you, you are under no obligation to continue reading. Have a good day.
Hello folks, I’m Harmonica Jay and this is the season finale of the Sidelines. Being a teenager is not easy. At all. When we were young, we were a mess of emotions, insecurities, and hormones. We had no idea how to function properly. On top of that, there was nothing so bad as getting dumped by the person we thought we loved, who abandons us for either someone new or just because they didn’t want to be with us. And of course, sometimes… the thought of ending it all would come to our minds. It never did for me, but I do know the pain of being dumped. Looking back, I realized that while painful, it was not the worst thing to happen to me. And if there was ever a film, that stated that breaking up with someone is not the worst thing to happen to you, it would be Better Off Dead.
Lane Myer (Played by John Cusack) is a high school skier with a crappy station wagon, a lawyer father (Played by David Ogden Stiers), a genius little brother, a ditzy mom with absolutely no cooking skills whatsoever (Played by Kim Darby), and an obsession with his girlfriend of six months Beth (Played by Amanda Wyss). However, after being unfairly drummed out of ski tryouts by Ski Captain and all around jerk Roy Stalin (Played by Aaron Dozier) Beth dumps him for Stalin, citing her desire to be seen “with someone more popular, better looking, has a nicer car…”. In short, Lane has a pretty crappy Sunday. So when he gets home, he immediately attempts to hang himself with absolutely no success.
Under the advice of his best friend, Charles De Mar (Played by Curtis Armstrong), Lane decides to win Beth back by skiing the legendary mountain top, the K-12, who only Roy Stalin has been able to successfully ski without dying. Meanwhile, a foreign exchange student named Monique (Played by Diane Franklin) develops a crush on Lane while being annoyed and harassed by Mrs. Smith and her nerdy son Ricky, (Played by Current TV Producer Daniel Schneider). And thus, Lane’s journey to win the woman of his dreams and to learn that losing someone isn’t the worst thing to happen to him.
Cast and Characters
The cast in this film is very well chosen. John Cusack is a good leading comedic actor, able to portray a very neurotic and eccentric teenager who has fantasies that distract him from the outside world, often to detrimental effects. Which is very normal for a teenager. Hell, I have that problem as well. While Lane comes off as a creeper in the very beginning, due to all the photos he has of Beth plastered over his wall, to the point where he has her head on his clothes hangers. However, when we get to know Lane, we see that he himself is pretty neurotic and… A teenager. In fact, he may be the perfect portrayal of a teenager. He’s not hateful or a stalker, just mildly weird while being likable and organically hilarious in his line delivery and physical comedy.
David Ogden Stiers and Kim Darby are hilarious as Lane’s parents, Darby getting the most laughs out of Mrs. Myer’s horrible attempts at home cooking which, at one point, looks like it may actually be alive! Aaron Dozier is probably the most middle of the cast as Roy Stalin. Roy is the basic asshole of high school. The Jock Captain who rubs the fact that he is the best in everyone’s face. However, Aaron seems to be in on the joke that Stalin is pretty much a dick and plays it up well. It’s even funnier when it turns out that no one likes Stalin when it is announced that Lane has challenged Stalin to a one on one ski match.
Curtis Armstrong is probably the funniest in the film as Lane’s best friend Charles De Mar. He’s basically a complete social reject. He’s incredibly stupid, freely admitting that he’s been going to high school “for seven and a half years” as if it is a grand achievement. He even snorts various objects as if they were cocaine, like Jello, snow, and nitrous oxide from a whipped cream can. However, he does give Lane some good advice, such as taking up his saxophone again to impress ladies, skiing the K-12, and probably the most sage advice you could ever give someone who is skiing down a really high mountain. “Go down that way very fast. If something gets in your way, turn.”
However, aside from John Cusack, Diane Franklin as Monique is probably the best acted and the best written. Throughout most of the film, Monique pretends to not speak a word of english in an attempt to make Ricky leave her alone. It doesn’t work of course. Her relationship with Lane is adorable as before the hour mark, Lane and her never fully exchange words, mostly Lane speaking to her and her listening. However, it’s clear that she’s had a crush on him probably since the first day she came to the USA and she does her best to support him in his attempt to win Beth back, but it soon becomes clear to Lane that she always was the girl for him after she helps him bring his formally dead on the drive Camaro to life in a very nice montage. Her best moment is when she rants about how pissed off she that Ricky is driving her nuts and that all she wanted was to come to the US to see Dodger’s stadium and how all Ricky does is “put his ‘testicles’ all over me.” (Tentacles.)
Overall, the cast of Better Off Dead was well chosen and give their A-Games to the proceedings.
Ok, the writing in this movie is amazing. Every so often, there is a joke that you may be able to catch if you don’t blink. There are so many running gags in this movie and all of them are hilarious. Let me talk about mine and everyone’s favorite: Johnny the Paperboy. Johnny is a paperboy, obviously. However, he’s almost like a gang member, dressing in black, wearing a black ski cap, carrying a switchblade comb, and is demanding his two dollars in paper deliveries from Lane. And he will go to any lengths to get it. He pursues Lane along with his gang of paperboys. He climbs on Lane’s car roof WHILE HE IS DRIVING. AND he bikes down the mountain with a ski on the bottom of his bicycle while wearing a motorcycle helmet and falls off the mountain after Roy Stalin pushes him away. AND HE SURVIVES! I love this gag.
The movie is all around hilarious with many other jokes, like Lane’s Dad’s attempts to maintain the garage windows that Johnny keeps breaking during his deliveries, only for the movie to end with Lane’s genius brother Badger destroying the entire garage with his working space shuttle! The Japanese brothers that constantly challenge Lane to drag racing, one of whom cannot speak english while the other speaks like Howard Cosell and is the announcer, only for Lane to accidentally ram his car into a very large man’s vehicle. And of course, Curtis Armstrong is hilarious as Charles De Mar.
However, the key message of the film isn’t that suicide is stupid or cowardly, but rather that being dumped isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you and wanting the attention of someone who dumped you for a jerk isn’t worth it. It really does speak to teens that go overboard with being dumped. The characters are not written as characters in a John Hughes movie, but as weird people from a little town in Northern California. The revelation Lane has isn’t a dramatic one, but gradual as he and Monique repair his Camaro and he understands that she is pretty much the person for him, one that likes him for who he is and doesn’t care about the superficial qualities Beth had. Now I know a girl like Monique is rare, especially for a teenager, but it’s still a good message. And the best part is that they start as friends and grow.
This is a great movie and one of my favorite comedies. The writing is solid and the comedy is gold and even surreal at times. It’s well cast and acted and it has a good message to those that are in a bad place. And while the comedy is dark, it’s still not offensive, at least to me. I highly recommend this movie to anyone who needs a laugh and is a rough spot. It’s a classic.
Hey, small disclaimer here folks. The Sidelines will be going on hiatus for a while as I am going to be working on a brand new review series for Badly.Productions. The series will be known as Rider TV where I review various aspects of the show Kamen Rider. I will also be starting a new review series that focuses on Manga, which has been a big part of my development as a Nerdy fanboy: Mangamania. I hope you guys enjoy it and thank you for sitting with me on the Sidelines.