Lizzie Cronin is a meek and subservient young woman. Perpetually browbeated by her mother, her marriage has just ended after her husband had an affair. Returning home, she rediscovers her old music box, and after untaping it, her old imaginary friend comes flying out. As a child, everyone around Lizzie knew about the mischievous and destructive Drop Dead Fred, and now that he's free, he's determined to have fun, and teach the grown-up Lizzie a thing or two...
Originally released to critical dismissal, Drop Dead Fred has always had its fans, and built up a devoted following as the years have gone by. Regarded by critics as just lowbrow trash, I feel the movie is better than that. Whether or not you find it to be obnoxious or grating depends on the person (and your tolerance for Rik Mayall)
The tone of the movie is goofy and irreverent, and on those terms the movie is a success, delivering laughs and amusing setpieces. But besides all that, there's another reason it's resonated with people over the years, and I think that's down to its relateable and adult themes, which the movie presents in a very frank way. It doesn't sugarcoat everything. Lizzie is a woman who grew up in a borderline abusive household, with a mother so oppressive that she basically sought to turn her daughter into a good little robot to marry off, and is furious at any perceived 'failure', such as divorce, losing her job, or 'daring' to be insolent. Because of this, the destructive Fred was actually a blessing for the girl, allowing her some fun and freedom when she was young. Something she has to remember again if she wants to break out of her rut.
The titular character delivers many of the film's laughs and setpieces, as he sashays across the screen. One potential drawback is that he miiiight just be a tad too psychotic for some viewers, with some of his pranks being particularly crazy. One example being the sinking of the houseboat. But at least that's one of the most whimsical scenes of the movie. Plus, Janie's rant to Fred afterwards is great. The only moment I felt went too far was making Lizzie attack the violinist
Lizzie is a good protagonist. Pathetic in some ways, enough to make you yell at the screen. But also likeable, and has enough spirit buried within her that you wanna see her break out of her current situation. Her friend Janie is a fun companion. Levelheaded to a degree, but absolutely loony in other ways. Also if you think about it she's probably no better than Lizzie's asshole ex!
On that note, the film really succeeds in portraying him as an absolute lowdown scumbag. He along with her mother are the film's true villains, and she's given some interesting dimension by the end, and I really like the resolution to that story, with her last outburst earning advice from Lizzie, but not altering her own decision.
Last up is supporting character and love interest Mickey, whose taste in women might be questionable if he views that date with Lizzie as a success, but he's a good dude, and you root for them as a couple.
The moment that I and many others find the most impactful is the ending, which features a surprising change from Fred, and really makes you wonder what all the deal with these 'imaginary' people is all about. It's really great stuff. I think part of what makes this film work so much is that it has such an edge to it that it makes this heartfelt resolution all the more impactful. If the whole movie had've been safe and cheesy, this conclusion probably wouldn't have had any weight to it, but because it holds no punches throughout, it makes it truly effective and cathartic.
The actors all do great. Phoebe Cates, normally playing self-assured and sexy ladies, is great as the very childlike and 'pathetic' Lizzie. Rik Mayall is the complete opposite as Fred. He's clearly having a ball as he chews through the scenery and runs amok. I especially admire his serious turn at the end. He really is the heart and soul of this movie. The rest of the cast do well, including an amusingly batty Carrie Fisher.
The music here is zany and fun. fitting a storybook feel. The effects are amusing too. They can get a bit fake at times. Whether or not this was intentional or not is up for debate (and I'm not prepared to insult the special effects team by making the wrong guess), but they earn a laugh regardless. Or a scream. Seeing Rik Mayall with a pancake head might inspire more terror than mirth.
Drop Dead Fred may not appeal to everyone, but it's worth checking out, and certainly worthy of time and respect...