Drop Dead Fred – an underrated feminist masterpiece you should watch again

Posted on 16 January 2020
By Dana Andersen
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Drop Dead Fred is a film you need in your collection. We’re taking you on a journey and examining the story from the female protagonist’s perspective – and discovering the magic all over again as a kick arse feminist film.

The film was released in 1991 and produced as a vehicle for British comedy legend Rik Mayall, who plays the title character, to conquer Hollywood. Although it sadly didn’t do as well as it should have in the 90s – it has achieved cult status and is winning a new young audience of fans.

Rik’s co-star, Phoebe Cates, was already known to the American audience from roles in Gremlins and Fast Times at Ridgemont high.

Cates plays Elizabeth, or Lizzy, recently separated from her husband, and totally controlled by her overbearing mother Polly.

While her husband Charles has a new woman, and her mother busies herself with ensuring her image for the neighbours is perfect, Lizzy begins to once again see her childhood imaginary friend, Drop Dead Fred.

He’s loud, brash and silly. Everything Lizzy has forgotten how to be.

Fred lets Lizzy remember what she was like as a child, the type of fun she had and how her mother treated her.

If you were to edit out all the mad exploits of Fred in the movie, this would be a film about a woman discovering who she is outside of the relationships she has in her life.

She went from an overbearing, image obsessed mother to Charles, also image obsessed, a total sleaze bag and a cheat. Its only once she has the strength to shut out these relationships that she’s able to begin healing and figuring herself out.

Lizzy finds her strength with Fred’s help, though it sometimes doesn’t seem like help. He cuts her hair in the middle of the night, sinks her best friend’s (played by Carrie Fisher) house boat and causes her to attack a musician in the mall.

The end result is that they’re all things that help give her the confidence and esteem she needs to be able to leave those damaging relationships behind.

Questions arise as to how much Fred is ‘really’ doing throughout the film though. We see him grab a grape from a servers costume, causing their clothing to fall away, only for Lizzy to have the grape in her hand. It’s clearly his fault the boat sank. The mud pie Lizzy eventually serves Charles must have been Fred’s work?

Either way, the events that come about due to Fred being there are all ones that Lizzy has to fix, and they all change her.

The quiet, nervous, mousy Lizzy we meet at the start of the film, is no longer there by the end. She has confidence, humour and self worth that she gains from being able to have fun on her terms.

Fred puts Lizzy in so many uncomfortable situations that she’s forced to stop focussing on how other people see her. She instead has to learn to resolve whats happening around her, in the best and most comfortable way for her.

Charles’s true colours show through to her, she’s able to finally stand up to her mother and she’s not so terrified of giving Mickey a chance.

Fred is Lizzy’s inner child, pushing her to do the things that will make her genuinely happy rather than the things the people around her have told her will make her happy.

He’s there to push her into uncomfortable territory while not telling her exactly what to do, simply giving her the tools and experiences she needs to get there.

Despite all the hints and small lessons, it still takes a full trip inside herself for Lizzy to recognise everything she needs to do.

Entering a creepy parallel of her childhood home, shows us how the house feels to Lizzy after growing up there, and being trapped there as an adult. It’s a struggle for her to get to where she needs to be, but through contact with Fred, she’s able to finally release her inner child.

To get there she had to first battle her reliance on Charles and her fear of her mother. Her insecurities that made her latch onto damaging relationships are no longer there, she’s free to be her real self and make her own choices, like she did as a child.

The fear of disappointing her mother or losing Charles is no longer there, not because neither will happen but because she no longer places so much importance on those people.

And thats why Fred is no longer needed. “You’ve got you now, you don’t need me…” is the most important line in the movie, because its the truth that Lizzy needs.

It’d be so easy for her to move her reliance from Charles and her mother to Fred, and he cant let that happen.

She has herself to rely on, and whether its that Fred needs to move on as an imaginary friend or because he was just a hallucination caused by Lizzy’s difficult position in life, she doesn’t need him anymore.

Although weaved in-between barely subtle innuendos, mud pies and Rik Mayall’s general and unique brand of chaos, Drop Dead Fred is the story of a woman finding who she is and what she wants.

She may look insane to the people around her, but she finds the strength and confidence she’d unknowingly had all along. She just needed to prove to herself that it was there.