Drop Dead Fred
Elizabeth “Lizzie” Cronin (Phoebe Cates) is a repressed young woman (with “wallflower” tendencies) who lets others walk all over her. One day she loses her money, her car, her job, and her husband within the same lunch hour. Following this turn of events, Lizzie’s domineering mother Polly (Marsha Mason) forces her to return and live in her childhood home.
Returning to her old bedroom, Lizzie finds a taped-up jack-in-the-box in the cupboard. She opens it and releases Drop Dead Fred (Rik Mayall): her imaginary friend from childhood, whom only Lizzie can see. Through a series of flashbacks it is revealed that as a child, Lizzie was tormented by the overbearing Polly, who drove away Lizzie’s father Nigel. It was Fred alone who made Lizzie happy and gave her an outlet for her frustrations, though Fred was a troublemaker who wreaked havoc wherever he went, virtually destroying the house and always shifting the blame to Lizzie for his tricks. Fred was eventually sealed in the jack-in-the-box by Polly. Upon being released by an adult Lizzie, he is disappointed that she has grown up and lost her zest for life.
Fred promises to make Lizzie happy again. She says that will happen only if she is reunited with her husband Charles (Tim Matheson), who cheats on her. Fred helps out as only he can, which gets Lizzie into even more trouble with her friends, and with Polly. Then Lizzie is reunited with her childhood friend/neighbour Mickey Bunce (Ron Eldard), who is now a divorced single parent. Although Mickey would love to resume his friendship with Lizzie, she is bent on saving her marriage to Charles.
Lizzie has a “makeover” at the behest of Polly. With this new look, Lizzie woos back her husband. After Fred causes Lizzie to “Have absurd conversations with thin air” as well as repeatedly hit a violinist at a local shopping mall, Polly takes her to a psychiatrist (Alycia Lutz), who prescribes drugs which will rid Lizzie of Fred. (Fred is seen to behave in a lethargic manner in the presence of Lizzie while she is on this prescription.) Just before Lizzie takes the last of these pills, she learns that Charles is still cheating on her. Heartbroken, Lizzie turns back to Fred, who uncharacteristically shows a serious side to himself.
Lizzie collapses onto Fred, triggering a fantasy sequence. In a mock-up of Lizzie’s childhood home, she is met by Charles and Polly, while Fred encourages her to stand up to them. After screaming the “magic words” to Polly (“I’m not afraid of you!”), Polly vanishes in flames, allowing Lizzie access to her childhood bedroom, where she finds her childhood self gagged and taped to her bed. Lizzie tears the tape, releasing her young self and, in the process, symbolically frees her present adult self. Fred tells the reluctant Lizzie that, after all these years, she no longer needs him. He kisses her goodbye and disappears.
Lizzie awakes in the real world and dumps Charles for good. Then she collects her belongings from Polly’s house, including Fred’s jack-in-the-box. Lizzie tells her mother how she feels about the way Polly has always treated her. Lizzie also tells Polly what she thinks of how Polly treated Nigel who, as a result, finally walked out on them despite his love for Lizzie. Lizzie goes to walk out on Polly, but despite her mother treating her badly when she was little, before she leaves she tells her to get a friend and hugs her.
Lizzie goes to Mickey and makes peace with him. She also hits it off with his daughter, whom Mickey explains is quite a handful. As they approach Mickey’s house, his daughter nearly runs into them saying “Daddy, I wanted to play but he bumped me on the head and said piss off”. Mickey’s live-in nanny claims the “young lady” has made a terrible mess, which the girl blames on Drop Dead Fred. Lizzie realizes that Fred has not truly gone; he is now the imaginary friend of Mickey’s daughter. This is confirmed when she sees the little girl giving Fred his handshake, while the viewer sees Fred is indeed playing with the little girl, seemingly oblivious to Lizzie’s presence. It is unknown whether or not Fred remembers Lizzie.
Many of us had imaginary friends when we were growing up. Don’t be ashamed, you know you did. Hell, some of us may still have them. Drop Dead Fred allows us a view into the world of these imaginary friends, specifically the titular character, Drop Dead Fred. Sure this film doesn’t go as in-depth into the imaginary friend world as Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, but it is still fun to know what the figment is up to.
The good…Phoebe Cates proves she can do more than just come up out of a pool in slow motion. She actually is quite the competent actress, showing her range of emotions throughout this flick. Fred is quite the likable character come film’s end, but in the early goings he is a bit annoying. That sort of metamorphosis is the result of good writing, something not many films of today seem to be able to do without losing the initial tone of the film. This could very easily have taken a turn toward becoming a psychological drama or horror flick, but I’m so glad they kept it light and comedic. Young Lizzie is cute as a button.
The bad…special effects seemed home made, even for the early 90s. The mom and husband are downright unlikable, and I’m not talking about as villains, for lack of a better term, but rather as actors and human beings. They just didn’t sell anything to me except that they existed to do nothing more than to make Liz’s life a living hell. Near the end, the film gets a little herky jerky in tone. One minute it’s all light and funny and the next its heavy in the drama.
When this film came out, I was getting ready to head off to junior high. I’m not really sure why, but this helped me to get through those hard couple of years and maintain my sanity, along with the help of my own imaginary friend. This is one of those pictures that will allow you to remember your childhood and those things that were important then that you may have forgotten. If you don’t see this for any other reason, then check it out just to lighten up. In these times, we all need to stop taking everything so seriously.
4 out of 5 stars