Not-So-Guilty Pleasures: 'Drop Dead Fred'

By: Heather Seebach

I decided to change the name of my "Guilty Pleasures" feature on the blog because I never was fond of that phrase. In truth, I feel no guilt about loving any movie, nor should I. Generally, these film choices are ones that most people dismiss or were torn apart by critics, but they remain meaningful to me, whether through nostalgia or some quality that others overlook.

It has been almost a year since I have revisited this "column" and I can think of no better film to revive it for than Drop Dead Fred. Of course, the timing of this choice is no coincidence given the recent and terrible news of Rik Mayall's death. His passing affected me more than I ever expected, due in no small part to how much Fred meant to me as a kid. Selfishly, the fact that he was only 56 also makes me reflect on my own mortality a bit. It also hits me hard because despite knowing his legacy in British comedy, I always procrastinated on watching The Young Ones, Bottom, etc. - an inaction that I regret intensely. 

Now, I am taking the time to catch up on all that I have missed (and getting increasingly sadder with each new role I watch him brilliantly portray). Of course I am constantly brought back to Drop Dead Fred and I find that I still adore it as much as I did twenty years ago. Many people laugh this one off as some stupid movie from their childhood years - it has a whopping 9% on RottenTomatoes - but I think it is still as genuinely enjoyable as it was in the 1990s.

Of course, Mayall is largely responsible for that. As the titular imaginary friend to Phoebe Cates, Rik was equal parts brash, funny, and loveable. The film was mostly family-oriented but Mayall was not without his edgy sense of humor. The character could have easily been more PG but I love that the filmmakers let Rik be vulgar and often mean with it.

 Not only is Mayall hilarious as Fred, he is undeniably loveable. Watching this as a young girl, I was so jealous of Lizzie and desperately wanted Fred to be my best friend! I think this film especially appealed to kids like me who felt like outsiders. I was a girl who hated being a girl. I did not want to wear dresses - I wanted to make mud pies and mischief! Any child who ever felt misunderstood or like their parents never listened to them could relate to this movie.

Drop Dead Fred also seriously lays on "the feels" when Elizabeth grows up and starts taking pills to forget Fred. I remember feeling genuinely upset at the prospect of Fred "dying" as she left him. Let's not even talk about the ending, when he says goodbye to her. Guh. Mayall was not only funny but a talented actor who could really nail the emotional moments when it's time. Needless to say, in light of Rik's passing, that final goodbye scene is a thousand times more painful now. I have not even watched it since the news of his death because I suspect I will turn into a blubbering mess.
I genuinely hope that Rik's mega-fans do not consider this a black spot on his comedy resume because I am so grateful he was in it and made it was it is. Robin Williams was originally slated for the role, but he never would have given it the same distinct edge that Mayall did. The world lost a great comedian and actor this week and although I have only just begun to see all the brilliance he gave us for myself, I will always have a special place in my heart for Drop Dead Fred

Goodbye, old friend.

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