The 1985 film Better off Dead by Savage Steve Holland follows the misadventures of teenager loser Lane Meyer as he struggles with questions of existence after his girlfriend of less than six months breaks up with him. At the beginning of the movie, Lane is completely infatuated with Beth, and has pictures of her covering every inch of his wall. Understandably, when Beth breaks up with him for someone “more popular who drives a better car,” Lane is crushed and almost instantly decides that the only option is suicide. Throughout the movie, Lane goes through multiple half-hearted attempts at suicide, each unnoticed by his oblivious, somewhat incompetent parents, yet fails in a comedic way every time. Between attempts, Lane continually tries to wins Beth back, primarily through learning to ski a mountain known as the K-12, a cliff so dangerous that only one person, Roy (Beth’s new boyfriend and ski team captain), has ever skied the slope and survived. Between skiing flops, failing school, and losing his job, Lane meets a new girl, Monique, a foreign exchange student from France, who has developed a crush on Lane. Monique is quiet, but proves to be very smart, eventually fixing the Camaro that Lane has been unable to get to work for years. Overtime, Lane begins to develop feelings for Monique, which lead him to challenge Roy to a ski-off when he mocks Monique.
Miraculously, Lane wins the ski-off, realizes during that Monique, not Beth, is the girl he truly wants to be with. He rejects Beth and professes his feelings for Monique, causing him to get into a ski-pole fight with her other suitor, Ricky–a fat, socially awkward teenager who is portrayed throughout the movie as “grubby” and undeserving of a cute girl’s affections. Lane wins the fight, and drives off with Monique in the Camaro she fixed, while being chased by an annoying 11-year-old mail boy, whom Lane owes two dollars (plus tip). Not quite happily-ever-after, but about as close as a guy like Lane will ever get.
Thesis: The 1986 romantic comedy Better off Dead relies heavily on both teenage and gender stereotypes for not only comedic value but also to tell a story of a boy overcoming social norms to find love.
Topic 1: Throughout the film, the teenagers are shown to be shallow and self-absorbed, and are shown as being single-interest in their approach towards life. This is shown in Lane’s over-dramatic approach to his break-up, the math nerds in class, and the jocks who can only talk about sports.
Topic 2: A major trope throughout the film is that Monique is “not like other girls,” and therefore inherently better. The average girl is portrayed as shallow, and caring too much about looks and popularity, while Monique is shown to care about deeper things such as a boy’s personality.
Topic 3: Masculinity is a common theme throughout the movie, and girls are shown to be more attracted to men who are better at sports, drive nice sports cars, and hang out with all the jocks. When Lane fails to make the ski team, it is like he is being stripped of his masculinity, and within the same scene his girlfriend breaks up with him.