I lost my girl, I lost my job,
I lost my status to a mob,
So now I’ll simply sit and sob
The tears that only I shed.
‘Tis better for me to decease.
I guess I won’t renew my lease.
I’m done with living; rest in peace.
I know I’m better off dead.
I’ll tell myself that no one cares.
They shouldn’t be caught unawares
When my life’s clearly worse than theirs.
I bet they’ll party instead.
I see the headlines: “Loser Gone!”
Not much, of course, to write upon.
I’m lucky if I’ll get a yawn,
Assuming it even is read.
Wait, who’s that girl I just now saw?
She smiled at me! I withdraw
My claiming of the final straw.
I may not be better off dead.
MPA rating: PG-13
What have I been up to? Because it certainly hasn’t been movie reviews. While I regret the delay, let’s just say I’m trying to expand my skills from poet to lyricist. 😉 Still, it’s past time for me to return to my Blindspot series. Considering I had never heard of it till fairly recently, Better Off Dead clearly doesn’t have the nostalgic reputation that ‘80s films like Ferris Bueller or Say Anything have, but I dare say it deserves to. This droll John Cusack vehicle has a lot to love, just perhaps a bit rough around the edges.
California high schooler Lane Myer (Cusack) is obsessively in love with his popular girlfriend Beth (Amanda Wyss), so he doesn’t take it well when she leaves him for a pompous skiing jock (Aaron Dozier). A proven loser with little reason to live, he makes several attempts to end his heartache permanently, though they thankfully always go absurdly wrong. It isn’t until a French exchange student living across the street (Diane Franklin) encourages him that he starts seeking a way to prove himself as more than a suicidal slacker.
In many ways, this movie is like the anti-Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, with Lane Myer being the perpetual loser in contrast to Matthew Broderick’s born-lucky protagonist, more akin to Ferris’s mopey friend Cameron. Some of the same gags are even inverted, as when an entire math class, minus Lane, eagerly volunteer to answer questions with a comical passion for dull math concepts spouted by the teacher (Vincent Schiavelli). The end of the credits even bears a message saying “the film’s over… you can go now.” Of course, Better Off Dead came out a year before Ferris Bueller, but I doubt there was any actual influence from either, probably.
While the title and description seem to focus on Lane’s suicidal mishaps, that dark humor is actually not as prevalent as you might expect. There are plenty of other recurring gags surrounding his stoner friend (Curtis Armstrong), his ridiculously talented little brother who can follow instructions to accomplish just about anything, the neighborhood’s disturbingly relentless paper boy, and the awkward romantic efforts of the mama’s boy across the street (Dan Schneider), all of which add up into a patchwork of absurdity that gets funnier with time. (Okay, maybe the paper boy gets old after a while.) Not to mention, the most memorable sequences involve surreal injections of animation, as when Lane argues with a drawing of his ex-girlfriend or when he fantasizes about bringing to life a hamburger that sings suspiciously like Eddie Van Halen.
Better Off Dead isn’t always as funny as it tries to be and often lacks cohesion, making it feel like a series of unrelated comedy skits, at least until a plot emerges from the silliness. Still, I enjoyed it quite a bit, and it could easily have been a staple in my house if only it would be shown on TV as often as Ferris Bueller was. While critics and Cusack himself were disappointed with the finished film, I admired its game cast (including Kim Darby and an accentless David Ogden Stiers as Lane’s quirky parents) and a sweet ‘80s soundtrack with the likes of Neil Sedaka and Hall and Oates. And by the end, it delivers a surprisingly encouraging romance and message out of the grim premise, making it an uneven but wholly likable teen comedy.
Best line: (Lane) “Gee, I’m real sorry your mom blew up, Ricky.”
Rank: List Runner-Up
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