Elizabeth (Phoebe Cates) is a woman going through a hard time in life. She is currently dealing with a marriage break-up with her husband Charles (Tim Matheson) of three years, who is claiming another woman has bewitched him. On top of that, her purse and car are stolen, and she gets fired from her job. Feeling hurt, heartbroken, and downright annoyed, Elizabeth is visited by her mother (Marsha Mason), who demands Elizabeth stays with her and sleep in her old childhood bedroom.
But while staying in her old bedroom, Elizabeth goes down memory lane of her childhood and discovers an old jack in the box covered in duct tape. While trying to sleep, she discovers that inside the old toy box is her old imaginary friend, Drop Dead Fred (Rik Mayall). Elizabeth is quite shocked to discover that her imaginary friend is, in fact, well, real. Fred is also surprised with energy and excitement to be reunited with his old friend (even though he is grossed out by her now being older). Together the two will cause mischief and chaos and perhaps even rekindle an old friendship they once shared. Fred is determined to help Elizabeth with her current issues dealing with her ex-husband, Charles.
Drop Dead Fred is best described as an outrageous and loud comedy. The style of humour and gags here are suited to a select audience. The gags here are mostly jokes about poo, snot and destroying property, with Fred yelling loudly and slapstick violence. When I first watched the film at the age of nine, there were many aspects of the comedy I admired and found joy in. Growing up, Drop Dead Fred was a big deal to me. Over-the-top loud and gross comedies were starting to be a big thing in cinema, and a few years later, the world would be greeted by such films as Dumb and Dumber.
However, now watching this film as a grown adult and a parent, I must confess that the gags have a different impression on me. Instead of thinking “that’s hilarious” about thinking certain acts that Drop Dead Fred is involved in, they now seem fairly unkind and even a little cruel, especially when other characters are affected by his mischief. The third act slows down as we witness characters make big revelations, but it’s so awkward with its attempted heartfelt tones that it’s just hoping audiences will accept it and forget about the damage or harm that occurred to other characters previously.
Elizabeth as a character is also deeply painful to watch. For the vast majority, Elizabeth cannot ever stand up to her mother or realise that her husband should possibly “drop dead” for being so unfaithful and silly. Rik Mayall as Drop Dead Fred is easily the film’s best element. He is energetic here, and it’s no surprise that he also delivers the best lines and gags. Fred’s costumes are always lively, creative, and fun. This film would be a major disaster if it weren’t for him and his lively and over-the-top performance.
Overall, the nine-year-old in me would have once called this a classic or, perhaps, a masterpiece. Now, as a fully grown adult, I can’t help but view this film differently. Watching the film now, I found the other characters most painful and torturous to watch. But still, Rik Mayall is excellent as Fred and steals each scene with his loud and energetic performance. He also gets the best lines and gags, which carry the entire film. It’s a great concept focusing on what if imaginary friends were real with fun moments of creativity. If the film’s level of comedy doesn’t resonate with you anymore (like myself), perhaps, as Fred would say, “it’s because you’re now all grown up and become ugly”.