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Gee, Ricky, I'm real sorry your mom blew up.
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 Beth, luckless teen Lane Meyer makes several futile attempts to kill himself, while wandering in and out of a series of encounters with the
inmates residents 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 who learned English by watching 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 very different sense of humor from most 80s teen comedies and seems far less dated than other films of its type.
- 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.
- Actor Allusion: When Beth (Amanda Wyss) shows up at the dance, there is someone behind her wearing Freddy Krueger's sweater. Wyss played Krueger's first victim in A Nightmare on Elm Street.
- Alien Lunch: She's not an actual alien, but Lane's mother Jenny is enough of a Cloudcuckoolander that she might as well be: she's shown on-screen cooking a meal where tentacles and claws wave from the pot; in another scene she serves the family a gelatinous green goo that flees Lane's plate when he pokes it with a fork.
- Ascended Meme: "I want my two dollars!"
- Animated Credits Opening
- Bad Job, Worse Uniform: Lane's job. See Burger Fool, below.
- Blond Guys Are Evil: Roy Stalin
- 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.
- Claymation: A brief sequence set in the burger joint where Lane works.
- Cloudcuckoolander: 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.
- Dawson Casting: Charles. Explicitly justified:
Charles: I've been going to this high school for seven and a half years! I'm no dummy!
- The Determinator: "I want my two dollars!!"
- Driven to Suicide: By Beth breaking up with him.
- The Eighties: Identifiable by the catchy pop song soundtrack.
- Enfant Terrible: "I want my two dollars!!"
- Everybody Hates Mathematics: Averted, 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.
- High School Dance: The New Year's dance at which Lane briefly rescues Monique from Ricky.
- 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.
- 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 "Tro-PAY": 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.
- Invoked by name by Ricky's mother, to Monique's utter disgust.
- 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."
- Malaproper: French exchange student Monique is mostly fluent in English, but has one or two slight vocabulary issues, resulting in lines like "He keeps putting his testicles all over me."
- 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: Jenny's mobile green goop.
- Mocking Music: After Beth has broken up with him, Lane is driving despondently and looking for something cheery to listen to on the radio. Every station is playing a breakup song; he ends up ripping the radio out of the car and hurling it out the window.
- 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 all right to date his ex.
- Naked Freak-Out: The roller-skating cheerleader in the cafeteria in her underwear, due to Lane's accidental slip-up. It Gets Worse as all of her boyfriends give him a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
- Obstacle Ski Course: The ski-off with Roy at the climax of the film turns into one.
- One-Scene Wonder: Vincent Schiavelli as Lane's math teacher.
- 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 window's getting broken.
- 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.
- 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.
How are we going to get real drugs in this town? We can't even get cable!
- Snorting real snow seems to work for him.
This is pure snow! Do you have 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.
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: Monique vs. Beth. Interestingly set up since as a French exchange student, Monique normally would be expected to be a fashionista Girly Girl. Instead, she's a (well-dressed) Wrench Wench and baseball fanatic.
- Totally Radical: Lane's father awkwardly attempts to "connect" with him.
- 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.