Tuesday, July 11, 2017

When Rik Mayall is Your Imaginary Friend, or Thoughts on Drop Dead Fred

Thereare two ways to approach Drop Dead Fred (1991): the first is to follow the filmmaker’s story of an adult going through a divorce who calls on her imaginary childhood friend to help her cope with life.  The rest of the film plays out as a screwball comedy.  However you can take the same movie and watch it from a far darker perspective; where it becomes a sad metaphor about child abuse where an adult survivor retreats into childhood strategies and her life descends into chaos.
80’s Dream Girl Phoebe Cates is Elizabeth, a mousy court reporter with Marsha Mason as her dominating mother and Tim Matheson as her cheating husband.  But Elizabeth has a secret; Fred, her imaginary childhood friend who lives in a jack-in-the-box and does everything Elizabeth is afraid to do.  Fred of course is portrayed by Rik Mayall; a character so seamless he might as well have been playing himself.  Reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice (1988), the movie suffers from attempting to walk that fine line between summer comedy and fantasy, and ends up being neither.
The maniac comedy style of British actor Rik Mayall (1958-2014) was largely unappreciated by critics on this side of the pond, and the movie currently holds a laughable rating (see what I did there, I’ll let myself out) of 9% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Guest House Paradiso (1999) was a far more suitable vehicle; where he wasn’t constrained by reality and allowed to run amuck in a hotel.
Watch out for Carrie Fisher as Janie, Elizabeth’s best friend, who lives on a riverboat.

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