Movie Report: Better Off Dead (1985)

Book coverI got this film last September at the library book sale, and I’d hoped to watch it with my oldest, whom we taught to say, “I want my two dollars!” when he was a toddler. But he’s awfully busy now, so I watched it with my youngest still on hiatus from his preferred and privilege-abused devices.

So: John Cusack plays Lane, whose girlfriend of six months breaks up with him. He has suicidal ideation (now known as support for Canadian health care in scientific terms). However, he meets the French foreign exchange student across the street, fixes up his car (well, helps the French foreign exchange student fix up his car), gets his first job, and rediscovers his zest for life.

It’s a pretty simple high school movie plot, but the subplots/recurring gags make it stand apart. We have the precocious younger brother building/upgrading things he collects from mail-in offers (and picking up trashy women). We have the mother who tries to be a stereotypical mom but fails in 80s teen film fashion. We have David Ogden Stiers somehow looking younger than Winchester from MASH as the exasperated father. We have the mother and son foreign exchange family from across the street who try to make the exchange student the love interest of the obese, awkward son. And we have Johnny, the vandal paperboy, pursuing Lane for the two dollars owed for the newspaper subscription.

Overall, it provides an amusing stylized view of Northern California teendom in the middle 1980s. I didn’t see it until the late 1990s when we borrowed it from my beautiful wife’s former roommate, so I was reflective and nostalgic about it rather than actually spoken to. Although unless you’re of a skiing culture and location in an upper-middle-class enclave, it probably would not have spoken to you directly in that time. It also features an animated daydream sequence to Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some” that stuck with me enough that I thought it was the actual music video for the song. But, apparently, the song precedes music videos and there is no alternate official video.

The film also featured….

I suppose you expected me to say Diane Franklin as Monique, the French foreign exchange student. She has celebrated a birthday sometime in the past year, so Facebook showed me numerous suggested and sponsored pages posts telling me so. But, no.

You might have thought I might choose either of the moms in the film because they’re now young ladies to me circa 2024, but, no.

You know who caught my eye this viewing? Elizabeth Daily, also known as E.G. Daily, the singer of the band at the school dance.

She was gnarly in the 1980s, and somehow, even though she had roles in a couple of movies including Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, she never broke through to become a known face of the 1980s.

She actually was a singer, and her songs appeared on a number of soundtracks of the era, and she charted several times. Here’s her performance in Better Off Dead:

And her song from Summer School:

Jeez, Louise, although I have only seen that film once or twice, it has not that long since I’ve said, “Tension breaker. Had to be done.” Most likely after a toddler scream, so it might not have been that recently.

At any rate, Ms. Daily has mostly done voice work over the years, having a role in Rugrats, The Powerpuff Girls, and Wreck It Ralph (among many other animated series and video games). And she has continued to look gnarly even though you could not see her.

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