Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Drop Dead Fred.”
The Movie: “Drop Dead Fred”
Starring: Phoebe Cates, Rik Mayall, Marsha Mason
Director: Ate de Jong
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A young woman finds her already unstable life rocked by the presence of a rambunctious imaginary friend from childhood.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 11 percent
Brown: Welcome back to another installment of the JOE-DOWN (REDACTED) all over your childhood!
See, we couldn’t do that last week with “Steel” because, honestly, I don’t know anyone who saw it. Or at least admitted to seeing it.
But I know many people who saw this week’s pick, “Drop Dead Fred.” And “Drop Dead Fred” was beloved by all these people.
… Those opinions are proof that nostalgia is a dangerous drug.
I remember seeing this movie about 10 years ago when staying at my friend Diane’s apartment. And I remember gritting my teeth through the whole thing but doing my best to not say a word because, well, I didn’t want to be a jerk and I needed a roof over my head at the time.
I mean, as a red-blooded American male, I do enjoy Phoebe Cates. But Fred… oh my God…
We’ll get into it. And we’ll get into how the (REDACTED) anyone could ever consider this a family movie.
Froemming, give me your first take while I spruce up a fresh mud pie.
Froemming: This is the worst Tim Burton movie he never made.
Unfortunately, I have seen this movie. A lot. Way too many times. In a span of a week. Because, as a child, my family went on baseball trips to see the Twins, and one year we road tripped to Toronto. And, at every hotel stop along the way, HBO played “Drop Dead Fred.” It was on a (REDACTED) loop. I felt like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day” because everytime I turned on a TV, there was stupid Fred, making his stupid faces, to this moron Phoebe Cates. It haunted me the whole time.
And now, because one of my best friends is a cruel son-of-a-bitch, I got to relive that painful, haunting experience. And, shocking to me, this movie is somehow worse than I remembered it being.
This is basically a shitty version of “Beetlejuice” that replaces the charming Michael Keaton with the lead singer of a band I despise: Hydrox Johnny Rotten.
And to get all the Sex Pistols references out of the way, I wrote the following summary of this movie using all their songs on their debut album:
Elizabeth claims Fred brings Anarchy and Problems to her life, but I think she is just a Liar and a sociopath. For instance, her psychosis is on full tilt when we meet Fred — when she is an adult — and see him piling up dead Bodies of her old stuffed animals. It gets worse as the film moves along, as it is obvious when she blames all these insane situations on her imaginary friend. She simply has No Feelings when it comes to other people’s misery around her. When she tells these yarns of Fred, her eyes are Pretty Vacant and the obvious mental illness guilts everyone into Sub-Mission to go along with her fantasy. She acts less like an adult in these situations and more like a Seventeen year old. So, her insanity spirals to the point where only God Can Save her from mental decline. Her poor mother really should send her to Gracie Square Hospital in New York, where she can get the help she needs and have a little Holiday. But no, her mother brings her to Dr. Ryland, who treats her daughter like EMI treated musical acts: With drugs. And (bonus track), by the end of this movie I realized every relationship of Elizabeth’s is toxic because every character has a My Way mentality.
Brown: Wow. That sounds like No Fun.
Froemming: Brown, as I feel good knowing this movie destroyed the acting careers of Rik Mayall and Phoebe Cates, why don’t you kick this off?
Brown: Normally, I make some sort of observation during the opening credits. In this case, I fast-forwarded them. Anything to cut down on this movie’s runtime.
Now, we meet Elizabeth (Phoebe Cates), who is a meek court reporter in *checks Wikipedia* MINNEAPOLIS?!
Wait, this (REDACTED) movie takes place in our homestate?! What the (REDACTED) did I just read?!
Froemming: Yup, I noticed the blue plates on the cars right away. That’s just something I notice when I am rage driving between Fargo and Moorhead.
Brown: That’s not all; part of this movie was filmed at Paisley Park!
(REDACTED) Prince has this movie’s stink on him for the rest of my lifetime.
Froemming: Do you think the drugs Prince ODed on also killed imaginary friends, and it was a twofer because he was his own imaginary friend?
Brown: I’m… scared to go down that rabbit hole.
Anyways, we get Elizabeth trying to hype herself up before she goes to talk to her estranged husband Charles about staying together.
Frankly, I think she should have hyped herself up like Dwight Schrute.
And Charles is a son of a bitch. Fred’s in this movie so he’s not THE worst character in “Drop Dead Fred,” but within 20 seconds of screen time, he’s gaslighting Elizabeth about how their separation was her idea and he just can’t help it that he’s smitten with another woman.
Froemming: Every character in this movie is toxic. That is pretty startling for a children’s movie. It is not done in a fun way, like “Seinfeld” or “It’s Always Sunny,” but in a truly dark way, like a Ted Bundy biopic.
Brown: Ted Bundy is more likable than Fred. At least Ted Bundy was charming.
So Elizabeth and Charlie’s talk doesn’t go well. And to make matters worse, Elizabeth gets her purse and car stolen AND gets fired from her court reporter job because she was late returning from her lunch break.
Now, I get being punctual, especially in that kind of job. But is it really the best practice to fire a court reporter in the middle of a trial for a man who says, unprompted, that he’s pleading insanity? I feel like that’s a rather high-profile thing to throw a wrench into.
Froemming: Well, she is late and broke the rules. I will let Kramer explain this to you:
Brown: While being escorted out of the courthouse, Elizabeth reunites with her childhood friend and poster boy for beta cuck males: Mickey.
And while discussing their childhood, Mickey brings back a long forgotten memory of Elizabeth’s: her imaginary friend, Drop Dead Fred. And Elizabeth smiles as she *checks notes* recalls throwing yellow paint at an elderly woman as a child.
Froemming: Elizabeth is a sociopath. Imaginary friends can be charming, like “Calvin & Hobbes.” This…this is dark, like the tale of John Wayne Gacy’s imaginary friend or something. I feel like Elizabeth has a lot of bodies buried under her porch.
Brown: Being that Fred is imaginary, Mickey mentions that everyone thought Elizabeth is crazy.
Umm, yes. As we’ll see in this movie, Elizabeth is crazy and no one is (REDACTED) helping her. Everything she does is a cry for help, yet no one is there. Seeing that this takes place in Minneapolis, at least I get why: as wimpy midwesterners, we’ll do ANYTHING to avoid conflict/awkward situations, so no one will address the woman literally losing her mind.
And you know what adds to Elizabeth’s hysteria? Why, a visit with her emotionally abusive mother!
Froemming: Look, her mother is awful, but to be fair, she spent two-decades dealing with her daughter who once had a Tyler Durden-like split personality as a child. That trauma does not excuse her behavior, but I get why she is the way she is.
Brown: To sum it up quickly: the mom is extremely prim and proper. One of those psychos that has a room in her house that is nicer than any other room yet NO ONE can sit in it. She constantly tells Elizabeth that Elizabeth is the reason Charlies is a cheater. And she blames Elizabeth for her husband leaving.
Froemming: Her husband left and became Elaine’s deadbeat English boyfriend in New York.
Yeah, he traded one toxic personality for another, but he leaned into his own toxic behavior here. Because everyone in this movie is awful.
Well, at the house we see the carpet in the Room-That-Shall-Not-Be-Touched has been shampooed, so we know something will happen there.
And it does. See, like Frank Cotton in “Hellraiser,” Elizabeth solves the puzzle box’s idiot cousin, the jack-in-the-box, which unleashes the cenobite named Drop Dead Fred. And his first words to Elizabeth is “We have such sights to show you! We’ll tear your soul apart! This isn’t for your eyes! Ah, the suffering.”
Well, that is how I remember it anyway.
Brown: Close. They pretty much copy the clown scene from “Poltergeist.”
Except, I’d rather have a clown kill Elizabeth instead of what we go: perhaps the most insufferable character in JOE-DOWN history?
Froemming: Yup. The worst. Worse than every Travolta character rolled into one.
And Fred, we see right away this split personality of hers is a cruel, psychotic maniac. He wants to murder the dolls, like Dahmer killed animals. He then goes downstairs to stomp mud into the freshly shampooed carpet, which is such a pain in the ass to do that I felt a deep rage at Fred. A dark, angry rage I have not felt before in my life. Brown, you remember feelings right? Like when we were kids and felt feelings? I started feeling those again.
Brown: I feel feelings every day in my life. Are you… are you saying you don’t have feelings?
Froemming: What I’m saying is a built up a shell.. a shell around myself. A cold, calculated shell that couldn’t be broken by anything but my hatred for Fred.
Anyways, Fred destroys a whole day of house work.
Brown: Fred pretty much does to Elizabeth’s mom’s sitting room what Rick James did to Eddie Murphy’s couch.
Which brings me to a point I wrote repeatedly in my notes: What exactly are Fred’s powers here. He’s an invisible friend no one else can see… that can also move things and later can physically make Elizabeth do things.
That’s not an invisible friend. That’s a (REDACTED) poltergeist. Fred is a ghost, which comforts me a little bit knowing he died once. So not only is Elizabeth going through enough trauma to make a psychologist a fortune, she’s being (REDACTED) haunted by a being more evil than anything the Old Testament could dream up.
I’d make a “Ghostbusters” joke but no. We need to call someone more serious.
Also, we get our first of THREE upskirt jokes with Fred. Remember folks: kid’s movie! And I think we’re only 20 minutes in.
Froemming: It was at this moment I felt like Dennis to your Wally:
A hot one, indeed.
Now we get to even more toxic behavior: Fred cannot go back to whatever Hell that spawned him until Elizabeth is happy. And she says she can only be happy if she is back with her emotionally-abusive-philandering-estranged husband.
Good lord, movie. Like, they kinda show this is bad at the end, but they do it with even more toxic behavior. This movie somehow tops “Urban Cowboy” in toxic codependency and relationships. The best advice for all these people comes from the Mad King:
Brown: Your description just made me realize that Drop Dead Fred is basically a Mr. Meeseeks from “Rick and Morty.”
While Fred is reigniting Elizabeth’s psychosis, Mommie Dearest decides to help her daughter by *checks notes* getting Elizabeth a haircut and new clothes to look exactly like her mother.
… So we’re going full “Single White Female,” huh?
Honestly, this movie works 100% better as a horror movie. Because it’s a (REDACTED) terrible kid’s movie with terrible people and a terrible message.
With her life spiraling out of control, Elizabeth goes to Carrie Fisher. You know, Princess Leia. The woman who wrote a biography called “Wishful Drinking.” Not… exactly the first choice to go to on a quest for mental health. But not only does Elizabeth barge onto Carrie’s *checks notes* large houseboat, she interrupts Carrie Fisher (I refuse to learn her character’s name) and a man named Murray humping.
And Murray’s response to Elizabeth’s invisible friend: “I didn’t have an imaginary friend. I had wet dreams.”
… Kid’s movie.
Froemming: So, we are just going to bypass the fact she owns a houseboat in Minnesota? A state that, while it has plenty of lakes, would not be a good place to own a (REDACTED) houseboat due to, you know, the weather.
Brown: This movie never even specifies that they’re in Minneapolis, so I care as much as this movie does.
Plus, you wanna discuss this fact further or do you want to stop talking about this (REDACTED) movie, Froemming?
Froemming: You made me watch this, so I have all the time in the world to discuss every minute of this movie.
Brown: You do that, Froemming. You go and talk about the houseboat. Meanwhile…
Froemming: Well, the houseboat is not talked about much after because Elizabeth, in a state of psychosis, manages to sink the damn thing when she hallucinates seeing both her ex and Fred, causing her to destroy Carrie Fisher’s home, like Darth Vader once did. A home that was doomed to be destroyed come December anyway.
Also, surprised her home didn’t look like this:
Brown: Elizabeth basically turns into Rodney Dangerfield in “Caddyshack” when she thinks she sees Charles.
Whatever strength of Xanax that Carrie Fisher was on when Elizabeth tells her about her home sinking to the bottom of a river, I want THAT dose. Because instead of strangling her friend, Carrie handles it awfully well. The only off-kilter thing she does is “beat up” Fred (whose standing by Elizabeth, egging this on). I mean, she’s feeding into Elizabeth’s mental breakdown but, as we find out later, apparently a friend sinking your giant houseboat gets you a huge insurance payment? That… seems like fraud of the highest order.
Speaking of people feeding Elizabeth’s mental breakdown, Mickey takes her out to lunch!
Froemming: It is here we realize Mickey also has some serious mental issues. He sits there acting like everything is normal when Elizabeth starts dumping water on the table and throwing pasta around. These are adults. Either he is overlooking this because he is desperate, or Elizabeth has a Patrick Batemen scenario going where nobody notices her insane behavior because it is most likely all in her head.
Brown: On one hand, I get it. It’s Phoebe Cates.
But the more important thing thing here is Mickey’s childhood crush is SO crippling that he can’t tell this woman is legit crazy. And not the kind of crazy that gets some dudes off; more clinical crazy. Like, she needs SO much help. She’s virtually possessed by this entity that’s one part Johnny Rotten, one part Garbage Pail Kid and one part Matthew Lesko.
But nope, this is how Mickey responds to a CLEAR CRY FOR HELP:
*Elizabeth throws a plate of food*
Mickey: “Why did you do that?”
Elizabeth: *shrugs* “I’m crazy.”
Mickey: *sports a child-like grin* “I LOVE that.”
Froemming: Her breakdown goes further, as she is also in a mall and people see her yelling at herself, which is always alarming. She then, and I kid you not readers, sees Fred playing violin with a mall orchestra (?????) and she attacks him and breaks the instrument. Only she assaulted a real (REDACTED) person!
And her mother, after admonishing the violinist for bringing an expensive instrument to a mall, pays the lady off and the police just let them go.
Brown: Textbook white privilege.
So I was fully prepared for Elizabeth’s mother to send Elizabeth to Nurse Ratched. Instead, she takes Elizabeth to a children’s doctor for *checks notes* imaginary friends.
Disregarding that this sort of practice exists, yeah, Elizabeth has basically reverted to being a child. She dresses like one the entire movie. That makes Mickey’s pursuit of her all the more disturbing when his crush has the mental faculties of a 5-year-old.
Because this is America, the doctor gives Elizabeth pills to make Fred go away. Frankly, I think Froemming and I need those pills, too.
Froemming: Well, perhaps the most psychotic moment is when we get Fred’s perspective at the doctor’s and we see more imaginary friends. This is Syd Barret levels of crazy!
Brown: When Fred is chatting with the other imaginary friends (that he himself is imagining in the worst version of “Inception” ever), Christians could only dream of this kind of hell to keep people from sinning.
Froemming: Elizabeth is taken home, where a burly nurse is there to kick her ass if she tries to escape, which sounds horrible if you have not been paying any attention to this movie up to this point. She tries to escape with Fred, but ends up getting locked in her bedroom for doing so. So, she takes a phone and busts out a window for a good old fashioned…
Brown: As Elizabeth is escaping, Mickey shows up with a dress because reasons. Then Elizabeth asks Mickey, a guy who CLEARLY has a crush on her since childhood, to drive her to her estranged, cheating husband.
*Sigh* What a cuck. I actually feel bad. Not for Mickey; he could tell Elizabeth to (REDACTED) off and frankly, would be justified. I feel bad for myself for watching this.
At this wine tasting party, Elizabeth runs into Charles, who sees a dolled-up Elizabeth and remembers “Oh yeah, I’m married to Phoebe Cates” and is spellbound by his wife once more.
Elizabeth returns to their apartment, where Charles arrives and they appear ready to reignite their relationship. Charles even tries the push-the-hands-to-the-crotch move. Fred watches this and tells Elizabeth to leave this scumbag.
… Fred, you of all people cannot be the voice of reason in this movie.
And there’s one of my biggest problems with this movie. For every one moment where there’s actually a little heart and you see that Fred cares about Elizabeth, you have to wade through 20 minutes of mind-numbing buffoonery that Tommy Lee Jones couldn’t sanction.
Froemming: Well, Fred’s future is in peril because Elizabeth is taking the imaginary-friend-killing pills which I assume cut down Prince in his prime. He also has problems because now…
…of Elizabeth’s life.
Brown: Elizabeth is having relapses, shown when she tells Charles she made beef wellington, only for a mud pie to be on the platter. Elizabeth goes to make a salad while Charles goes into the other room to make a phone call. Fred convinces Elizabeth to eavesdrop on Charles, who’s talking to his mistress and saying how he loves her and has Elizabeth under his oppressive thumb.
This leads to *checks notes* a surreal dream sequence that apparently was staged at Paisley Park.
I would have liked it if the dream sequence was like this:
Instead, it shows Elizabeth how her mother traumatized her to the point where she needed an imaginary friend. Or something.
Froemming: Look, if you are going to do a surreal dreamlike scene, either go all-Lynch or go home.
Brown: Fred says that Elizabeth can return to her life, but he can’t help her. And apparently, the way to return, according to Fred: “Just kiss me and say Drop Dead Fred.”
… FUCK YOU, MOVIE.
I’m fully convinced that this was a 20-plus year grooming plot by Fred to have Phoebe Cates. What. An. Asshole.
Froemming: The cycle of Fred’s abuse does not end there, either. See, after Elizabeth tells her mom off and to get a friend…
Brown: She also tells Charles to put an egg in his shoe and beat it.
Froemming: …We next see her playing mind games with Mickey. Because she can. And Mickey’s daughter now has an imaginary friend named Drop Dead Fred. Elizabeth has sucked everyone into her psychosis, and now it is manifesting in other people’s children. This is her and Fred’s version of Project Mayhem, right? The movie should just have ended like this:
Brown: See, I interpreted it as Mickey being a terrible father. Fred was manifested by Elizabeth because of her abusive mother. And now, Mickey’s daughter is being visited by Fred? Clearly, his pursuit of Elizabeth has the daughter traumatized by a lack of love. The cycle begins anew.
Froemming, let’s go to recommendations before we start whaling on a violinist with a purse.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: No. No, I am really pissed off we watched this.
Here is what’s coming up for the next JOE-DOWN: