You see, Drop Dead Fred was a minor hit – an indie film that took in $13.8 million during its theatrical run. And while there’s a certain type of kid who was just the right age to love the film’s unique combo of physical comedy, gross-out humor and psychological kookiness, its cult-classic status means that most people haven’t seen it. If that’s the case, too many folks missed out on a great comedic performance by this British actor who never again appeared so prominently in an American film.
Drop Dead Fred-era Rik Mayall was a sort of proto-Jim Carrey, really, and what follows is a brief appreciation for this special movie about an imaginary friend whose destructive impulses exist only to make his human companion’s life more interesting.
For example, he knows how to make an entrance.
He knows how to share a scene with a sock monkey.
As far as magical beings who appear to help out troubled children, Mayall’s Fred is a decidedly (and refreshingly!) un-Mary Poppins-like presence.
His attachment to Phoebe Cates‘s character, Elizabeth, works like a slightly less destructive version of Beetlejuice’s relationship with Winona Ryder‘s character in that movie. He’s all the childhood id that most children never get to express – including the one that willfully, gleefully soiled the pristine living room carpets.
He even gets into some Tim Burton-esque face-warping just for the sake of a joke.
And he delivers on every suppressed childhood reaction against authority figures.
(Credit: Absurd Noise)
He means well…
Even if the lengths he goes to turn out to be too dramatic…
And his reactions to schmaltzy romantic love are wonderfully honest.
Most important, Mayall displays a rare disregard for physical safety in order to complete a scene.
Of course, Mayall isn’t the only draw in the film. Phoebe Cates reminds you how much you like seeing Phoebe Cates in movies, and she looks great, even when she’s draped in dowdy, early ’90s Elaine-from-Seinfeld fashions.
Another plus? As any ’90s movie should, Drop Dead Fred boasts a makeover montage scene scored to background music that sounds vaguely like the theme to Blossom.
Cates even temporarily sports an asymmetrical hairdo – Fred’s doing – that she’s mortified by, though it looks stylish and avant-garde by today’s standards.
Also, Carrie Fisher is there!
As is Bridget Fonda, though this GIF is more a reaction to her than anything else.
(Credit: Absurd Noise)
And then there is the awesome opening credit sequence. Why don’t live-action comedies have animated opening titles anymore?
If you haven’t watched it in a while, take an evening to enjoy it for what it is – and to appreciate Rik Mayall’s performance. Just don’t over-sentimentalize it. As Fred himself would scoff (inadvertently generating the perfect GIF to illustrate derision and disdain 23 years later), “That’s so namby-pamby.”
Rik, may you ricochet around pop culture forever.
Except where otherwise noted, all GIFs and screenshots by Drew Mackie.
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