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How to Beat the High Co$t of Living
Directed by Robert Scheerer
Produced by Robert Kaufman
Jerome M. Zeitman
Written by Robert Kaufman
Leonora Thung
Starring Jane Curtin
Susan Saint James
Jessica Lange
Richard Benjamin
Fred Willard
Music by Patrick Williams
Cinematography James Crabe
Editing by Bill Butler
Distributed by MGM
Filmways Pictures
Release date(s) 1980
Running time 105 min.
Country United States
Language English

How to Beat the High Co$t of Living is a 1980 comedy film, starring Jane Curtin, Susan Saint James and Jessica Lange. Also in the cast are Dabney Coleman, Fred Willard, Richard Benjamin, Eddie Albert, Cathryn Damon, and a cameo by Jane Curtin's fellow Saturday Night Live co-star Garrett Morris. The movie was released in summer of 1980, grossing approximately US $7.5 million.



Jane (Susan Saint James), Elaine (Jane Curtin), and Louise (Jessica Lange) are three suburbanites in Eugene, Oregon. These three women have been friends since high school, and are currently all struggling through the recession of the early 1980s.

Jane is divorced, trying to cope with the man she is dating, Robert (Fred Willard), her newly-single father (Eddie Albert) who has just moved in with her after his wife leaves him for another woman, and her two young children, one boy and his younger sister whom needs dental work. At the same time as Robert needs thousands to buy his half of a business, Jane learns she is pregnant, which leaves neither of them very happy since both are near-broke.

Elaine's husband, an architect, has recently left her for a younger woman. He has also left her with no money, no credit cards, and lots of bills, all of which are very overdue (leading later to a scene with a man at the power company (Garrett Morris). She decides the best way to deal with this surprise situation by getting drunk and going for a drive, where she is caught by police officer Jack (Dabney Coleman). Due to the attraction they both feel for one another, he lets her poor judgment slide. She finds that even a garage sale, in which she tries to sell everything her husband owned - including his deodorant - doesn't bring in any money.

Louise owns and operates an antiques store; unfortunately, it's not a very successful operation, and she is always accepting funds from her veterinarian husband (Richard Benjamin) to keep the store open. While they are in bed one evening, in the early process of making love, she learns he plans on suing her to force her into bankruptcy and thereby wipe away the enormous debt she has incurred.

Main plot

At the peak of their woes, Elaine visits the local mall, where an acquaintance (Cathryn Damon) has pushed her into helping out with lighting a small pageant being held there. Making a phone call, she stares at the large, clear ball in the middle of the mall which is soon due to hold thousands and thousands of dollars in a giant cash "give away" and suddenly formulates the idea of stealing the money so the three of them can all get the money they need. She calls them to the mall, where they scheme to steal the money during the "give away" by drilling a hole beneath the cash ball and sucking out as much cash as possible with a high-powered vacuum, then escaping to the river in back of the mall.

Despite getting caught in the act of stealing some of the items needed for the heist by officer Jack, Elaine once again manages to sweet-talk their way out of being taken to prison. Later, on the evening of the heist, each of them finds an unexpected distraction but finally find their way to the mall, where Jane and Louise begin their work beneath the cash ball, and Elaine readies herself to throw the switch to the mall's light controls (which would give them all enough time to finish the job and escape unnoticed). Unfortunately, a minor occurrence takes place during both the give away and the pageant, nearly causing the police to notice the noise caused by Jane and Louise stealing the money. With no other way to distract the police, and the audience present, Elaine begins to rant about the high cost of living and how so many things cost "the shirt off your back - and even THAT'S not enough!" Very soon, she starts an impromptu striptease and ends with exposing her bosom to the crowd, effectively taking the attention away from what's REALLY going on. Shortly thereafter, one of the indoor light poles falls directly into the ball, sending cash flowing out into the mall, driving people into a frenzy as they dive to collect the cash. Noticing the uproar going on above, Jane and Louise make their escape with two large trash bags filled with dollar bills, only to have their canoe tip over when Louise stands up. They both fall in, and right away Louise yells she can't swim, leaving Jane to decide - quickly - to either save the cash or her friend. She saves Louise and the two bags float away.

Hours later, the sun is rising and both Jane and Louise are still on the bank of the river, crestfallen over the loss of the money after all the trouble they'd gone to steal it; Elaine works her way to them, wrapped in a blanket, distraught at the news. The three begin to fight, but within moments Louise notices a bag in sight and the three of them dive in after it...

At the film's end, Jane has married Robert and gotten her father a condo in a senior's complex; Louise reopens her store and takes back her husband, whom she'd left; and Elaine begins dating the officer, with enough secret money to bring her back to the level of living she'd been used to.


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