Drop Dead Fred
|Drop Dead Fred|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ate de Jong|
|Produced by||Paul Webster|
|Screenplay by||Carlos Davis &
|Story by||Elizabeth Livingston|
|Music by||Randy Edelman|
|Editing by||Marshall Harve|
|Studio||PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
Working Title Films
|Distributed by||New Line Cinema|
|Release dates||April 19, 1991 (USA)|
|Running time||103 min.|
|Box office||$13,878,334 (USA)|
Drop Dead Fred is a 1991 comedy fantasy cult film directed by Ate de Jong, produced by PolyGram Filmed Entertainment and Working Title Films and released and distributed by New Line Cinema. Although promoted as a light-hearted children's film, there are notable adult themes and gags, with elements of black comedy, emotional abuse, mental illness, bizarre visual and make-up effects, gross-out humor and some profanity.
Rik Mayall stars as the title character, a happy, anarchic and mischievous imaginary friend of a young girl named Elizabeth (Phoebe Cates) and arch nemesis of her overbearing mother Polly (Marsha Mason). Drop Dead Fred causes chaos around the home and neighborhood, but nobody can see Fred except Elizabeth. When Elizabeth grows up and has an emotional crisis, Fred returns to "cheer her up" in his own unique way, causing more chaos than ever before. The supporting cast includes Carrie Fisher, Ron Eldard, Tim Matheson, and Bridget Fonda.
Elizabeth "Lizzie" Cronin is an unassertive and repressed woman, domineered by her controlling mother Polly. While taking her lunch break from work, Lizzie calls her husband Charles, from whom she is separated, hoping to sort out their problems. He reasserts his desire for a divorce and says that he is in love with another woman named Annabella. While Lizzie is at the public phone, first her purse is stolen, then her car. Forced to walk back to work, she arrives late and loses her job. Polly then appears, again takes control, and brings Lizzie back to the home where she grew up.
While rummaging through past belongings in the closet of her childhood bedroom, Lizzie finds a taped-shut jack-in-the-box. After removing the tape and turning the crank, Lizzie frees her former imaginary friend, Drop Dead Fred. Through a series of flashbacks it is revealed that while Drop Dead Fred caused havoc for Lizzie, he also gave her happiness and a release from her oppressive mother. Fred agrees to help Lizzie become happy again, which she believes will only happen when she wins back her husband. However, Fred's childish antics do more harm than good.
Worried by Lizzie's recent strange behavior, Polly brings her daughter to a psychologist. In the waiting room, Fred is seen meeting up with other patients' imaginary friends. The doctor prescribes medication to rid her of Fred, whom he and Polly believe is a figment of Lizzie's imagination. Lizzie also changes her appearance and wardrobe. Charles now wants her back and Lizzie is overjoyed, until Fred discovers he is still planning to cheat on Lizzie with Annabella. Heartbroken, Lizzie tells Fred that she cannot leave Charles, because she is scared of being alone. The two escape to a dream sequence in which Lizzie is finally able to stand up to her mother Polly and declare she is no longer afraid of her. Fred tells Lizzie that she does not need him anymore, and he disappears.
Upon waking from the dream, Lizzie leaves Charles and asserts herself to her mother, who blames Lizzie for her father leaving home. Before leaving, Lizzie reconciles with her mother, and encourages her to find a friend to escape her own loneliness. Lizzie goes to her friend Mickey's house, and on meeting, they both express interest in becoming more than just friends. After Mickey's daughter comes up to them and blames Drop Dead Fred for mischief that has just prompted her nanny to quit, Lizzie realizes that Fred is now with someone else.
- Phoebe Cates as Elizabeth 'Lizzie' Cronin
- Rik Mayall as Drop Dead Fred
- Marsha Mason as Polly Cronin
- Ron Eldard as Mickey Bunce
- Carrie Fisher as Janie
- Tim Matheson as Charles
- Ashley Peldon as young Elizabeth
- Daniel Gerroll as Nigel Cronin
- Keith Charles as Murray
- Bridget Fonda as Annabella
The film was released to cinemas on April 19, 1991, and fared well (for an independent film), grossing $3,625,648 on its opening weekend, and $13,878,334 over its entire theatrical run. It was Working Title's first financial hit and was (for a time) the most successful independent film ever released in Australia. It received negative reviews by critics; Leonard Maltin stated that "Phoebe Cates' appealing performance can't salvage this putrid mess... recommended only for people who think nose-picking is funny". Drop Dead Fred currently holds a '13% rotten' rating on Rotten Tomatoes but an audience appreciation of 69%.
Although the film was usually cited as a comedy, some critics also took note of its psychological aspects. Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Margaret Lyons asked, "...is it supposed to be hilarious, or a really, really depressing story about the long-term effects of emotional abuse?" Writing for Mystical Movie Guide, Carl J. Schroeder wrote, "The imaginary friend is cavortingly rude for a reason; he served to push the girlchild to do mischief for attention and as a cry for help. Now grown up, the woman has forgotten and is about to lose her soul, so events call for some kind of literal return of her demon to force the exposure of her pain. This psychic crisis is poignantly realistic... The creature who is visible only to the woman is like a poltergeist energy of her repressed self, a problematic ego container into which her powers of assertion and creativity were poured and stored. The movie's resolution is startlingly beautiful..."
- 'Drop Dead Fred' remake: Let's not flick boogers at it just yet, Entertainment Weekly, April 28, 2009
- Review of Drop Dead Fred, Mystical Movie Guide