When I rewatch the movies I loved as a kid, they fall into three different categories. The first are those really special movies that imprint you so much as a kid that no matter how old you are, you have the same experience you did as a kid; it’s as if when I watch them, I haven’t changed. For me, those include “Home Alone” and “The Goonies.” Second, some movies are disappointments. They don’t live up to what you remembered, and you see flaws as an adult that essentially ruin the movie for you. Boy, none of those Mary-Kate and Ashley movies hold up, do they? But the last category, my favorite, are those rare movies that are good as both a kid and an adult. I don’t sit transfixed like I did as a kid, but I see new layers and meanings. I end up with different, but equally meaningful, experiences.
“Drop Dead Fred” was a ubiquitous part of my childhood. I’m not sure how many times I watched it, and I’m sure we never owned a copy. Maybe because my brother was able to perfectly imitate the title character and often quoted the movie, it has always stuck in my head as “one of the best movies ever!”
I was probably nine or ten the last time I watched it, and when I saw it on Netflix recently I made my husband sit down and watch it with me immediately. (Unfortunately, Netflix appears to have already removed it from their streaming service.)
Guess what! This movie is still great! But not because it made me feel nine again. Instead, it made me realize things about myself in the present.
As a kid, I thought Fred was HILARIOUS. Obviously, he was the part of the movie marketed toward children. He’s crass, loud, obnoxious – you know, fun.
But upon this viewing, I was caught off guard by how much the main plot resonated with me as an adult. Elizabeth finds herself in a crumbling marriage with a total narcissist, the crumbling of which her overbearing mother blames on her. Upon moving back in with her mother, she wakes up her childhood imaginary friend Drop Dead Fred from a long slumber.
Neither are happy they are meeting again. He’s disgusted she’s a boring grown up; she’s terrified what seeing him means for her sanity. “You’re not happy, and I can’t go home until YOU’RE happy!” he exclaims to her. Physical comedy and mishaps ensue, and they are truly still funny to me. It’s silly and delightful. Eventually, in a flashback, we see that Elizabeth’s mother forced her to stop imagining Drop Dead Fred. In the present, she tearfully confesses “all the Fred, all the life, went out of me.”
Now, it’s important for me to draw some distinctions. My husband is nothing like the husband in the movie, and my mother was nothing like the mother in the movie. But those are just symbols, anyway. I’ve had jobs as draining as that husband. And life itself is that mother, forcing me to pack up my imagination and become a serious adult. Most of us go through that. We grow inhibitions and become self-conscious. We begin rooting ourselves in a more sober reality. We become busier and busier until we forget to play – all that Fred goes out of us. Watching this was especially poignant for me as I have been trying to find myself back in a place where I’m not so scared to express all the silly, imaginative things in myself anymore. Thus, I legitimately cried during scenes in this movie. Not tears on the brim and a choke here and there. I’m talking streams and gasping sobs.
I feel like I got to experience the movie in the best ways possible – one all “Fred” and laughter, missing the mature jokes and themes, but dying over the physical comedy, and another all grown up and reminded that a good portion of silliness keeps our best childish qualities within grasp, long after we’ve become adults.