Greetings, Glancers! Today I run a more critical eye over my tenth favourite movie of the year 1991, seeking to ignore my bias and provide a fair score based on the 20 criteria I feel are most important in the creation of a film. Today’s movie is Ate De Jong’s anarchic cult classic, Drop Dead Fred, the movie about a lonely young girl who grows up to be a bored pushover until her mischievous imaginary childhood friend comes back.
Sales: 3. I can’t go 2 here because it made double its budget, but it was hardly a hit. It grew into that cult hit later, especially on TV here.
Critical Consensus: 2. I would almost go with a 1 here because it was critically despised upon release, while not enough fans saw it to care. But eventually the fans would flock to it and move it, and decades later critics have come to re-evaluate it as, if not a classic, at least an entertaining and thought-provoking favourite which was ahead of its time. Critics, man, sometimes they just don’t get it.
Director: 3. De Jong is a director who made a load of films in The Netherlands which no-one has seen – then he made this. It’s clearly a personal story – something which critics completely missed – but it is possible to enjoy this purely as a silly slapstick comedy, certainly children take it like that. Anyone who can control a manic Rik Mayall deserves at least a 3.
Performances: 4. It’s Mayall let loose. It’s a sweeter character than he’s known for, perhaps surprising for some to read, but what a perfect actor to portray both childhood trauma, acting out, and pre-adolescent anarchy. Phoebe Cates is excellent, sweetly bemused, while the rest of the cast and cameos are fun.
Characters: 3. It’s all about Fred and Elizabeth – two lifelong friends with an often strained but unending relationship. It’s great to spend a hundred minutes with them, to learn from them.
Cinematography: 3. It never goes full cartoonish or fantasy like if Tim Burton had been the director, and as such it looks like a glossy big city sitcom.
Writing: 4. Lots of funny one-liners, lots of cynicism, lots of jokes coming from kids and parents mouths that you don’t expect and cut so close to the bone that you probably wouldn’t get away with it these days. While not as quotable as many of my favourite comedies, there’s still plenty to quote and others will get the reference.
Plot: 3. A woman who has spent her life being a doormat for abuse finds herself at breaking point and resurrects her one rebellious outlet, her imaginary childhood friend Drop Dead Fred. He’s a bit naughty, but he helps her to stand up for herself.
Wardrobe: 3. Similar to the Cinematography, you feel this could have gone in a more adventurous direction, but that may have changed the tone of the movie. Outside of Fred’s suit and Snotface’s dowdy attire, it’s all by the by.
Editing: 3. Sharp, not as manic as you might expect a film like this to be.
Make up and Hair: 3. See wardrobe.
Effects: 3. Not much to go on, but fine.
Art and Set: 3. See Wardrobe.
Sound And Music: 3. I’m being very generous with my 3 here – the main theme and the associated tracks are fine – nothing remarkable, nothing original, nothing even too memorable. But they do evoke a childlike vibe, they are fun, and they work in the context of the movie. However, the production is horrible, the whole thing sounds like it was recorded on a V-tech Keyboard and feels about 5 years out of date. It’s not a 1, but I can see people going 2.
Cultural Significance: 3. Again, fairly generous here because I don’t think the film went on to inspire or influence anything but a generation of kids found solace in it. However, it did unleash Rik Mayall on wider US audiences, as well as introducing him to kids. I sort of knew him from Blackadder when I was young, but was already a huge fan thanks to Bottom. He would go on to more acclaim off the back of this performance, but I can see you going 2 here.
Accomplishment: 3. It’s a bizarre story to bring to the screen, but to make it both funny, personal, silly, complex, and to have it be both accessible to young and old, is the main accomplishment. You can look at this from a hundred perspectives – 3 is the ceiling, 2 is the basement.
Stunts: 3. See Special effects.
Originality: 3. I don’t think there’s enough to reach a 4 here, but 3 sounds reasonable. It’s not the sort of story you see everyday.
Miscellaneous: 3. Average 3.
Personal: 4. I loved it as a kid and kept loving it as a teen. I don’t enjoy it as much now, but probably because I’m comparing it with Bottom, which is flawless.
Total Score: 62/100.
Lower than I thought, but I don’t think I could really go higher in any of the categories. If I’m being honest, the score could conceivably go down by around 5 points if you felt the 3s were more accurately 2s. Let us know your thoughts in the comments!