The year was 1991 and it would take another couple before ‘Drop Dead Fred’ became my favorite movie of all time. So despite that year delivering ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ ‘Bryan Adams, and ‘Step by Step,’ there was nothing that came about in 1991 that’s closer to my heart than the following movie because as you’ll soon read – it’s not just my favorite, but also the best representation of my generation. Well, according to me…
‘’Drop Dead Fred’’ has gotten less than stellar reviews from critics and viewers alike in the 30-plus years since its original release. The late Gene Siskel even went as far as to say, “This is easily one of the worst films I’ve ever seen.” Harsh, but this movie wasn’t meant for him or any other adult at that time. In hindsight, ‘Drop Dead Fred’ probably wasn’t intended for 21st-century 30-somethings either, but without knowing it this movie became a comforting millennial masterpiece as it’s rooted in the traumas of a generation that came of age long after its initial release.
Alas, the generation that put avocado toast on the map became the prime audience for ‘Drop Dead Fred’, a dark comedy that takes Phoebe Cates and puts her character, Elizabeth Cronin, through the wringer; troubled childhood, a nightmare of a relationship, and employment failure. With all the above piled on…Elizabeth started to feel the wear and tear a lifetime of dismay had on her mental state. So what did she do in the midst of a breakdown? She leaned on the comfort of nostalgia, her imaginary friend named Fred. Disney adults and millennials obsessed with all things ’90s – does any of this sound familiar?
Like many, Elizabeth’s ordeal started early as she watched her family dismantle. With her father gone, she was stuck with a narcissistic mother. Elizabeth’s woes didn’t stop there. Her relationship status would’ve been “it’s complicated” today; like countless millennials who entered their 20s and 30s during the height of hookup culture and dating apps. Swiping left or right is fine when you’re just looking for sex, but a deeper connection that may lead to commitment? Not impossible, but harder to find than a satisfying career post-college. Which, Elizabeth gets fired right at the start of the film. Was court reporting her passion? The movie doesn’t make that clear, but it seemed like she was more upset over the loss of a paycheck than a setback in any sort of career path.
As for millennials’ career paths, they were shaked, rattled, and rolled as many graduated from college around 2008, the year of a recession. They were the most educated generation to date with the least amount of opportunities for a myriad of reasons. The recession being one, and two being the lie that college was the path to success. It was a path, a path to being on Sallie Mae’s call list for eternity.
Family drama, lackluster positions, and dead-end relationships. All issues millennials could one day relate to when streaming ‘Drop Dead Fred.’ However, this generation had a host of other traumas that littered their childhood, adolescence, and adulthood giving them plenty of reasons to break like Elizabeth.
The oldest millennials were mere kindergartners when the Challenger Explosion happened. NBC’s ‘This Is Us’ showed the damage it had done to its three main characters who are arguably on the cusp of being millennials having been born in 1980. A space mission gone wrong was just the start of a catastrophic cascade of incidents. In 1995, children watched as their own were taken in the Oklahoma City Bombing. Not too long after, the school shooting known as Columbine shocked in ‘99, and with no change on the matter of gun control in America, the looming fear of mass shootings stayed with them due to similar events occurring ever since. Then came the big one, 9/11.
The day The World Trade Center Towers collapsed bookmarked a change in the air – forever. Everything before felt like something that could be moved forward from, but not 9/11. It left a gloom in the back of millennials’ minds as they tried to soften the blow with the emergence of so-called reality TV. A tragedy within itself, but a glimmer of hope was on the horizon with the Obama administration. That didn’t last long as the aforementioned recession, and the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012 left even darker clouds overhead. Then the 2016 election came and went and the tragedy of reality TV took a turn for the worst when a former reality TV host became president and with that, four years of toxicity, capped by an ongoing global pandemic.
The pandemic left millennials to curve heightened anxieties with reruns of comfort shows they’d seen time and time again. Who can blame them though? The ‘90s and early ‘00s were premier in regards to pop culture. Must-See TV was raging, boy bands were everything, and Disney was in their Renaissance. So it’s not shocking that to deal in adulthood, millennials would buy insane amounts of Funko Pops (they were the generation that fell deep into Beanie Babies and Pogs), spend way too much at Disneyland, and tune into reboots of better times via shows like ‘The Conners’ and ‘Fuller House.’
Elizabeth Cronin was not dealt a winning hand in life but played what she could with the help of an old, imaginary friend named Fred. Like her, millennials have had to collectively live through one too many “unprecedented” moments, and often look back to better times via the unmistakable magic of nostalgia to make due. So while Siskel went out believing ‘Drop Dead Fred’ was one of the worst films he’d ever seen, just know this movie needed to find its audience, and did so in a generation rooted in disaster.
Drop Dead Fred and Elizabeth Cronin give reassurance that when in doubt, lean on nostalgia until life makes sense again. For her, it took less than two hours, but for a generation that’s gone through a lot more, it’s okay to keep holding onto those Britney Spears’ songs and theme park passes a little while longer.
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