I’m really surprised that people consider Drop Dead Fred to be a kid’s movie. While this is the story of a girl and her imaginary friend, most of the themes are quite adult. Divorce, adultery, and mental illness all feature heavily in the plot. Also, Fred totally looks up Bridget Fonda dress. So inappropriate, Fred.
This is another movie I did not see as a kid. I doubt I would have been into it, though. As I’ve said, a lot of the themes would have gone way over my head, but I also never had an imaginary friend and my mother was not a “megabeast.” My sister and I were encouraged to be ourselves, and my mother especially disliked people who tried to dress and treat kids like mini adults.
But as an adult I can appreciate the nuances of Drop Dead Fred. This movie is the story of emotionally abused Lizzie who grows up to be an unassertive, co-dependent woman (Phoebe Cates) thanks to her domineering mother (Marsha Mason). When she moves home after her husband cheats on her and asks for a divorce, her insane “imaginary” friend Drop Dead Fred (Rik Mayall) returns to cheer her up. Fred basically functions as Lizzie’s bad alter ego. He does all sorts of outrageous and destructive things, but Lizzie gets blamed for them. It would seem like Fred is a total dick, but he’s the perfect antidote to Lizzie’s boring life and need to please everyone. Fred helped Lizzie have fun as a child despite having a mother who insisted on treating her like a mini adult. As an adult, he helps her finally stand up to her mother and kick her sleazy husband to the curb. It’s a bit like Fight Club, but with a way happier ending.
As far as 90s comedies go, this one isn’t bad. There are many genuinely funny parts and I found myself laughing through much of it. Phoebe Cates is lovely as kowtowed Lizzie, and I’m jealous that she can wear her hair that short and still look adorable. Rik Mayall is perfectly crazy as Fred, and Marsha Mason is so good at playing the mean mom that I felt my blood pressure rising whenever she was on screen.
I’m not going to lie, Drop Dead Fred holds a special place for me. I realise it is a stupid movie that most people probably wouldn’t find very funny, but I saw this with my dad and sister growing up in Denver so there is definite nostalgic value for me. I also find Rik Mayall hilarious. He had previously done a few UK television shows, but had yet to crack the lucrative US market. Drop Dead Fred was his first and only attempt to break into that untapped market, he was already well known internationally for his role as Rik in the brilliant 80s sitcom The Young Ones, but was hoping to get known in America after this movie was a big hit. Obviously, Drop Dead Fred was not the huge success he had hoped, so he returned to the UK to make the great TV show, Bottom with his pal (and fellow Young Ones alum), Ade Edmondson. Despite failing as a box office hit, Drop Dead Fred has its moments and still makes me laugh out loud over 20 years later.
The film follows Liz (Phoebe Cates), a 30 year old having marital problems with her cheating husband (Tim Matheson). When she moves back in with her mother (Marsha Mason), she finds her old imaginary friend, Drop Dead Fred (Mayall) who vows to help her win back her husband. Fred’s idea of doing this generally involves dog poo and smashing everything in sight, so he is not very helpful to Liz’s plight. He causes Liz and her best friend (Carrie Fisher) considerable problems throughout the film, despite his heart usually being in the right place. Eventually Liz must learn to face her fears, with the help of her immature imaginary friend.
Like I said, this film is stupid, but it is still funny. I had not watched this film in a long time before we sat down for the blog viewing and was not expecting to laugh as much as I did. Rik Mayall is just a ball of energy as the crazed imaginary friend, he has some great lines, especially when he is making fun of Liz’s mother, generally referred to as the ‘megabeast’. Mayal and Cates have terrific chemistry together, Cates especially is very good in her role. There were many times throughout the film where she is speaking to nothing but thin air. When the film is shown from other people’s perspective, Liz looks insane because she is having conversations with people who aren’t visible. Those scenes are done really well and Cates does a great job convincing the audience she is talking to an invisible person.
Drop Dead Fred has a lot of heart and a great message about facing your fears and not being bullied, even by the people you love. I still enjoyed this film, Mayall’s performance is still hilarious, and he is ably supported by Phoebe Cates and Princess Leia.