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Better Off Dead
Better Off Dead.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Drew Struzan
Directed by Savage Steve Holland
Produced by Gil Friesen
Michael Jaffe
Andrew Meyer
Written by Savage Steve Holland
Starring John Cusack
David Ogden Stiers
Diane Franklin
Curtis Armstrong
Amanda Wyss
Music by Rupert Hine
Cinematography Isidore Mankofsky
Distributed by Warner Bros. (original)
Paramount Pictures (current)
Release date(s)
  • August 23, 1985
Running time 97 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $10,297,601

Better Off Dead is a 1985 American teen romantic comedy film starring John Cusack and written and directed by Savage Steve Holland. It tells the story of high school student Lane Myer who is suicidal after his girlfriend breaks up with him.

Plot

The story takes place in the fictional town of Greendale in "the state of Northern California" and centers on high-schooler Lane Myer (John Cusack), whose girlfriend Beth (Amanda Wyss) dumps him for the arrogant and bullying captain of the high school ski team, Roy Stalin (Aaron Dozier). Lane cannot get past this rejection and decides that death is the only way out of his misery. His half-hearted attempts at suicide, however, always fail, with comedic consequences.

Lane's family is odd: his mother, Jenny (Kim Darby) is a sort of deranged Stepford wife and perhaps the world's worst cook; his genius little brother, Badger (Scooter Stevens), never speaks but can build lasers and attract trashy women; and his father, Al (David Ogden Stiers) is convinced Lane is using drugs. Lane's best friend, Charles de Mar (Curtis Armstrong) attempts to inhale everyday substances, like the nitrous oxide in a whipped cream can (known as a whippit), Jell-O or snow, as if it were cocaine because he "can't even get real drugs here." The film also introduces two Japanese drag racing brothers, one of whom (Yuji Okumoto) learned English by impersonating Howard Cosell.

As Lane attempts to either end his life or win back his ex-girlfriend, he gradually gets to know a new girl: a French foreign-exchange student named Monique (Diane Franklin). She is staying with Lane's neighbors (Laura Waterbury and Daniel Schneider) across the street, who are so annoying that she pretends she cannot speak English. Monique turns out to be a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers (as she calls them) and is a tough, confident soul. She helps Lane fix up his 1967 Camaro and rekindles Lane's confidence and his will to live through "language lessons" in the international language of love.

The climactic scene involves a ski competition against Roy Stalin on a treacherous slope called the K-12. As the two rivals race, Johnny, Lane's persistent paperboy pursues him, repeating that he wants two dollars that are owed (spawning the catchphrase, "I want my two dollars!").

Cast

Production

Some of the skiing scenes were shot at Snowbird, in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah. During the sword fight with ski poles, the word "Mid Gad" is plainly visible on the lift machinery; Mid Gad is a ski lift at Snowbird. Most of the ski scenes were shot at Alta Ski Area; the parking lot is Alta's parking lot. It is widely speculated that many of the "town" scenes of the film were shot in various locations throughout La Crescenta, CA, the eastern San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties in California. The exterior of the high school was filmed at the W Clark Magnet School Anderson W Clark Magnet School (then a junior high school) in La Crescenta, CA. The race scenes were filmed in the city of Sierra Madre. It appears that many of the scenes were shot in Upland, California. Several scenes were filmed in the city of Burbank, as local landmarks are visible in driving scenes. The film's final scene was shot at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California.

Reception

The film received positive reviews from critics with an 81% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 21 reviews. The consensus was that "Better Off Dead is an anarchic mix of black humor and surreal comedy, anchored by John Cusack's winsome, charming performance."[1] However, Siskel & Ebert gave the film two thumbs down.[2]

Also, according to Savage Steve Holland, Cusack didn't like the film. Cusack walked out of a screening as both were making One Crazy Summer, later confronting Holland saying it "was the worst thing I have ever seen. I will never trust you as a director ever again, so don’t speak to me." Holland claims that Cusack felt he had been made to look foolish and that his comments "made me not care about movies anymore."[3] However, in a 2013 Reddit "Ask Me Anything" chat, when asked if he hated filming Better Off Dead, Cusack responded "No, I just thought it could have been better, but I think that about almost all my films. I have nothing against the film. . . . Glad people love it still." [4]

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