Film / Better Off Dead

Better Off Dead is a 1985 comedy film directed by Savage Steve Holland and starring John Cusack.

After being dumped by his utterly-unfaithful girlfriend, luckless teen Lane Meyer makes several futile attempts to kill himself, while wandering in and out of a series of encounters with the residents... inmates of his bizarre hometown. These include his super-genius younger brother Badger; his severely-underachieving best friend Charles; a pair of Korean car-racing enthusiasts, the one who speaks English having learned it by listening to Howard Cosell; and one very determined paper-boy. Lane's life finally begins to turn around when he meets Monique, a comely French exchange student who has been sentenced to live with Lane's grotesque neighbors.

Probably doesn't quite make it to classic status, especially the ending which veers off into painfully straight teen-movie win-the-athletic-competition territory, but mentioning this film or quoting from it is very likely to bring a smile to the face of Tropers of a certain age. It does have a pretty strong cult following due to the fact that aside from that ending, it has a different sense of humor than most 80's teen comedies and seems far less dated than other films of its type.

This film series provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Ricky and his pursuit of Monique.
  • The Ace: Everyone other than Lane seems to have incredible skill at doing things. Highlighted by Lane's younger brother, who uses his book knowledge to pick up trashy women and build a launchable space shuttle in the attic.
  • alllowercaseletters: The opening and closing credits.
  • Ascended Meme: "I want my two dollars!"
  • Animated Credits Opening
  • Braces of Orthodontic Overkill: Lane's unfortunate but practical blind-date.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: In-universe example: Barney Rubble of The Flintstones interrupts a broadcast to ask Lane if he can date Beth.
  • Bungled Suicide: Several — it's one of the film's Running Gags.
    Lane: Gee, I'm real sorry your mom blew up, Ricky.
  • Burger Fool: Lane has to wear a hideous pig-themed hat, even though he works back in the kitchen.
  • Cameo / Prop Recycling: Twiki from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century appears in the background of the Christmas scene.
  • Claymation: A brief sequence set in the burger joint where Lane works.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Lane's mother Jenny.
  • Cool Car: Initially averted with Lane's canvas-draped, cobwebbed (and nonfunctional) Camaro. But once Monique gets her hands on it, it goes from aversion to expression.
  • The Determinator: "I want my two dollars!!"
  • Driven to Suicide
  • The '80s: Identifiable by the catchy pop song soundtrack.
  • Enfant Terrible: "I want my two dollars!!"
  • Everybody Hates Mathematics: Inverted, because Mr. Kerber is just that good.
  • Evil Genius: Badger possibly qualifies.
  • Funny Foreigner: Monique mostly avoids this, except for one or two slight problems with English.
  • Homemade Sweater from Hell: Jenny wears a reindeer outfit which comes complete with an antler-headpiece, and gives one to her husband which is aardvark-themed.
    • They must not actually be homemade, though, since, when Mr. Meyer goes outside, he sees his neighbor wearing the identical outfit.
  • I Need to Go Iron My Dog: Lane ditching the paperboy.
    Lane: My little brother got his arm stuck in the microwave. So my mom had to take him to the hospital. My grandma dropped acid this morning, and she freaked out. She hijacked a busload of... penguins. So it's sort of a family crisis. Bye!
  • Instant Expert: "Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn."
  • Insult Backfire: Played with when Stalin insults Lane and Charles at one point during the New Years dance; Lane is insulted, but Charles finds it hilarious, even interrupting Stalin's dance with Beth because he's still laughing.
  • Interrupted Suicide
  • It Is Pronounced Tropay: Lane's mother serves Monique "Frahnch Fries", etc.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Of course, Lane comes to his senses in time.
  • Jerk Jock: The villain, such as he is.
    • His name? Roy Stalin.
  • Language of Love: Subverted, when it turns out that Monique speaks English fairly fluently.
  • Lethal Chef: Hoo boy. Jenny. Lane pokes one of her creations with his fork, and it starts moving away.
    "It's got raisins in it. You like raisins."
    • She's so bad, she gives TV dinners as Christmas presents.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Monique.
  • Meaningful Name: Roy Stalin.
  • Medium Shift Gag: There are a couple of gag sequences in both clay and hand-drawn animation, representing Lane's bizarre daydreams about dancing hamburgers and so forth.
  • Mess on a Plate: The mother is spooning grey-green goo (with raisins!) directly onto Lane's plate. He pokes it with his fork and it crawls away.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Mr Kerber's maths class, wherein advanced geometry is ludicrously popular. (To be fair, Kerber is played by Vincent Schiavelli.)
  • My Beloved Smother: Ricky's harridan of a mother.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: After the break-up, every guy from the math teacher to the rude mailman to Barney Rubble is asking Lane if it would be alright to date his ex.
  • Naked Freak-Out: The roller-skating cheerleader in the cafeteria in her underwear, due to Lane's accidental slip-up. To make matter worse, ALL of her boyfriends give him a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
  • Overly Long Gag: Roy makes a joke at Lane and Charles's expense. Charles bursts out laughing. A lot. To the point where he later interrupts a romantic dance between Roy and his girlfriend because he's still laughing.
  • Poverty Food: The mother is spooning grey-green goo (with raisins!) directly onto Lane's plate. He pokes it with his fork and it crawls away.
  • Product Placement: A very prominent flag for The North Face is shown directly above Lane's head while in the ski shop, though averted in another scene with a equally-prominent Coke can that is carefully oriented so that the viewer can't see the logo.
  • Reverse Harem: Chris Cummins is a cheerleader who dates the basketball team. The entire team.
  • Running Gag: "I want my two dollars!!"
    • Also, Lane's drag-race-at-the-stoplight moments, plus the crash into the driver behind him.
    • Badger's mail-order purchases
    • The garage door windows getting broken.
    • And, as noted, Lane's deeply futile suicide attempts.
  • Rule of Funny: This movie essentially runs on this, no matter how weird the jokes can get.
  • Spiritual Successor: John Cusack recently traveled back in time to a 1980s ski resort in Hot Tub Time Machine. Somebody is even heard shouting "I want my two dollars!" at one point.
  • Stalker Shrine: Lane has turned his room into one of these, dedicated to his girlfriend.
  • Standard Snippet: Muddy Waters' "Mannish Boy" as Lane's Camaro rolls out for the first time. Gene Autry's "Here Comes Santa Claus" during the Christmas sequence.
  • Stealth Pun: The K-12.
  • Stock Shout-Out: Lane doing Frankenstein-imbuing-the-creature-with-life at the start of the "Everybody Wants Some" sequence.
  • The Stoner: Charles. Or he would be, if he could find anything to get stoned on.
    Greendale is a bodaciously small town, Lane. It's a flyspeck on the map, a rest-stop on the way to a ski resort. I can't even get real drugs here!
    • Snorting real snow seems to work for him.
      This is pure snow! It's EVERYWHERE! Have you any idea what the street value of this mountain is?
  • Suicide as Comedy: Detecting a theme yet?
    And dying when you're not really sick is really sick, you know? Really!
  • Title Drop: The singer at the school dance.
  • Tom Boy And Girly Girl
  • Totally Radical: Lane's father awkwardly attempts to "connect" with him.
  • Translation By Volume: Lane's father tries to communicate with Monique the exchange student from France.
  • Trash Landing:
  • Unkempt Beauty: Monique looks surprisingly hot with car grease on her face.
  • Vanity License Plate: The villain's Trans-Am.
  • The Voiceless: Badger.
  • The World Mocks Your Loss: Lane is constantly reminded of his ex, Beth, because every other guy in town (and Barney Rubble) wants to date her.
  • Wrench Wench: Monique turns out to be one.

"I want my two dollars!"