Just Say, "Drop Dead Fred."
Drop Dead Fred is a 1991 black comedy fantasy film directed by Ate de Jong, and even though I've loved this film since I was a child, I've always been taken aback by the fact that it was promoted as a children's film.
Drop Dead Fred is actually full of swearing, violence, and a lot of really adult themes that I noticed even as a child. Whenever I watched it, I was pretty convinced I was looking at something I wasn't supposed to be. So it's amazing to grow up and discover this film wasn't originally promoted toward adults after all.
That said, this is probably one of my favorite movies of all time. I've seen it a countless number of times, and -- at the risk of pissing off Star Wars fans -- it is probably my favorite Carrie Fisher movie.
And honestly, there's nothing so simultaneously adorable and hilarious as Child Elizabeth (Ashley Peldon) saying,"What a pile of shit!" after her mother reads her a bedtime story.
Let me start off by saying that Phoebe Cates was amazing as Elizabeth Cronin. She was a pretty talented actress and comedian, and it's a shame her career didn't go further.
Elizabeth Cronin is a repressed mid-twenty-something whose life is falling apart. The last leg is kicked out from under her when she loses her husband, her car, and her job all in one lunch break.
About ten minutes into the film, and it's become clear that Drop Dead Fred's (Rik Mayall) absence in her life was largely the reason she grew into the kind of person who can't stand up to her mother, clings to a sleazy husband, and can't keep her life together.
The film further underscores this by showing Elizabeth dressed in the opening as a child: a bow in her hair and a long mousy dress, with long hair to the back of her knees. Due to her mother's abuse, Elizabeth can't seem to grow up, stand up for herself, be an adult, and it shows.
Later, we see how Fred edges her toward growing up when he cuts her hair shorter as she is sleeping. Her mother does something similar, but in a way that seems to devalue Lizzie's true personality: Lizzie's mother tries to change her into her doppelganger, while Fred encourages Lizzie to embrace her true self.
The film seems to indicate that imaginary friends only come to children who are unhappy. The Friend's job is to help the child develop into an emotionally healthy adult, in spite of their abusive and unfortunate circumstances.
When Elizabeth's abusive mother traps Fred in the Jack in the Box, she grows into an emotionally repressed, meek person with low self-esteem. This happens because she is raised in a household where she is unloved -- not by her mother, not by her father (who leaves), and now not by Fred, who can't get to her now that he's trapped.
Given that tape is a constant theme of repressed emotions throughout the film (at the end, we see Child Elizabeth taped to her bed), it's tempting to think that Drop Dead Fred was actually really a figment of Lizzie's imagination, maybe a Fight Club deal where she was talking to her alter ego all along.
But nope. We see that Mickey Bunce's (Rod Eldard) daughter "inherits" Fred once Elizabeth grows up and deals with her crap.
So Fred is very real and has a very real job: to make certain unhappy children grow into fully functional adults. If only Imaginary Friends were real, huh? Maybe we'd live in a world with less school shootings.
While Adult Lizzie is crying in her bed, it seems that for Fred, the twenty years of suffering is nonexistent. When Adult Lizzie opens the Jack in the Box, he happily pops out of it and screams his nickname for her -- "Snotface!!!" -- without seeming to realize any time has passed. In fact, dude is probably f****** immortal. I doubt time means anything to him.
Once out of the box, Fred is shocked to find Lizzie an adult and is even more disappointed to discover she is (still) unhappy.
Throughout the movie, Elizabeth insists on pursuing what's wrong for her. She refuses to fix her bitter relationship with her overbearing mother (Marsha Mason) and wants desperately to win back her human-waste-bin husband, Charles (Tim Matheson).
Fred wants to help Lizzie, but when she rejects his help (and subsequently hurts his feelings), he humiliates her out of resentment. He follows her to her lunch date with Mickey Bunce and ruins it for her completely by forcing her to throw plates and empty wineglasses.
The scene where Phoebe Cates masterfully fights her invisible friend is pretty iconic and yet another of many reminders that women can be funny as f****.
Unfortunately, we live in a misogynistic world where the fact will be acknowledged seldom, if ever.
Probably the best thing about the film is the awww-worthy platonic love between Lizzie and Drop Dead Fred.
Fred's love for Elizabeth especially shows in the way he is determined to stick by her and help her to the very end. He never abandons her, always stands up for her, always reminds her that she's great and that the Mega Beast (aka Elizabeth's mother) is abusive and not someone she should listen to.
Throughout the film, Fred's affection is charmingly apparent. Little gestures such as grabbing Elizabeth's hand and running with her, tickling her when she's a child, picking lint off her knee while she's crying.
His love for Elizabeth and their close friendship is truly wonderful to watch. Through love and friendship, Drop Dead Fred helps her leave her cheating husband and stand up to her bully-mother.
By the end of the film, Elizabeth has learned to love herself, to be her own best friend, and doesn't need Fred anymore.
It is a bittersweet ending to a wonderfully hilarious, fun, heartwarming film.
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© 2018 Ash Gray