Drop Dead Fred (1991)
Directed by: Ate de Jong
Starring: Phoebe Cates, Rik Mayall, Marsha Mason
Written by: Elizabeth Livingston, Carlos Davis, Anthony Fingleton
This is my favorite movie. No question. I’ve loved this movie ever since I was 11, when its joy came primarily from the ridiculous idea of a child robbing her own house, at the prompting of her crazed imaginary friend. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate the grown-up bits, which show the former child selling out and falling into a miserable life. Elizabeth’s husband is a beautiful dick who screws around, and her mom is a psycho megabeast who storms back into Elizabeth’s life after the husband splits. The grown-up is forcibly returned to the family house, where she discovers an abandoned jack-in-the-box which releases her imaginary friend from his prison. Once freed, Drop Dead Fred, a magnificent creature of wild orange hair and leprechaun green suits, destroys everything in sight. He smears dog poop on chairs, sinks a houseboat while playing pirates, and removes muscular winos from their togas. Drop Dead Fred is one of the greatest comic madmen of all time, and without doubt the king of the imaginary friends.
The film’s narrative shuffles between the child and adult Elizabeth’s dealings with Drop Dead Fred, and to be honest, Fred’s misadventures with young Elizabeth will always be the most fun part of this film. The figment’s effect on the grown-up is purposely awkward, illustrating how much Elizabeth has forgotten since the days when her imagination wreaked havoc. However, the scenes depicting those halcyon times are acts of insane happiness, with the kid giving herself completely to Fredness and dancing in his clouds of Cornflakes Disease. This manic glee, while being delightful to watch, also gives a great sadness to the point in time when Fred gets locked away and Elizabeth slides into the gray world of manners. Consequently, the broken adult to come from this grows more sympathetic as Drop Dead Fred continues to ruin her life and save her soul.
Rik Mayall, who gained fame in English television for his various twit roles – the most notable of these being the Cliff Richard worshipping college anarchist in The Young Ones – is absolutely perfect as a figment of imagination. His Fred prances, and sneers, and smashes, and punches Go to Hell Herman in the face – all with a sarcastic majesty that gives the film an overwhelming, childish joy. From the moment I set eyes on him, Drop Dead Fred became one of my all time heroes, and even though I’ve grown up, I still love him with all my heart.