Viking Night: Friday
By Bruce Hall
March 17, 2015
One of the problems with coming-of-age movies is that they rarely change anybody’s mind. Cautionary tales, or films that purport to offer advice on How to Grow up Right are usually best received by those who don’t really need the advice in the first place. Everyone else soaks it in and gets on with their lives, usually missing the point entirely. Scrutinizing the fictional mistakes of make believe people is easy and fun. But when a movie asks you to take a look at ourselves and we don’t want to see, we assume they must be talking to the person sitting behind us. I understand. I’ve done it myself, and I’m not afraid to admit it.
Case in point - one of the most fundamental rules of dealing drugs OR selling candy for your high school band class is...NEVER partake of your own stash. This - and several hundred caramel chocolate crunch candy bars - is what I took away from high school band.
However, if you walk away from Friday with nothing else, you should walk away with the knowledge that if someone gives you $200 of weed to sell, you’d damn well better sell it. I think the filmmakers had more in mind, but they weren’t making The Basketball Diaries, they were making a lighthearted stoner comedy starring Chris Tucker and Ice Cube as Ghetto Ferris Bueller and Eddie Haskell. That’s fine with me, because '90s cinema had more than its share of weighty inner city drama. I can’t speak for everyone, but at the time Friday came out, it was just what the doctor ordered. Cube and Tucker couldn’t be a better match as affable slacker Craig Jones and his perpetually stoned best friend, Smokey.
If they’d made a TV series starring just these guys it probably wouldn’t have been very good, but I’d have watched the hell out of it anyway. What’s not appealing about Chris, who thanks to an unauthorized act of merchandise procurement (stealing), has lost his job. Not exactly eager to return to the rewarding world of manual labor, he’s taken to sleeping late and eating everything in the house except the living room couch, because he needs a place to sit while he’s eating everything in the house. His parents, steeped in the crucible of the civil rights era, are not interested in seeing their son fulfill every negative stereotype they’ve spent a lifetime resisting.
So when they (unfairly) insist he find himself a damn job, he and Smokey take to hanging out on the front porch, passively presiding over the neighborhood like a pair of witless old scions. Their constituency includes Ezail (Anthony Johnson), the neighborhood crackhead, Red (DJ Pooh), who as far as I can tell is the UPS guy, and Deebo (Tiny Lister), the neighborhood bully who steals from people with impunity because he’s the size of an uprooted tree. It's a full day, getting baked on the porch, trying not to impress the ladies, and avoid getting beaten by Deebo. With all this going on, Chris barely has time to not look for a job. And speaking of jobs, the only member of the Porch Patrol who is anything close to gainfully employed is Smokey, who occasionally re-sells pot for a shady drug dealer called Big Worm (Faizon Love).
Here’s the funny thing about drug dealer names. They are not usually meant to conjure images of congeniality and fairness. Big Worm is called Big Worm for a reason, and when it comes to light that Smokey has been living up to his name instead of selling product, this particular Worm gives his minion an ultimatum to come up with $200 or eat lead. Not wanting to die alone, Smokey drops Chris’ name, drawing a death sentence for them both. I once had until the end of the day to come up with $500 or get thrown out of my apartment. It’s amazing what you can do when the alternative is that final. So not surprisingly, the two most unmotivated guys in town discover a heretofore untapped reservoir of energy when they have till the end of the day - Friday - to come up with the cash.
I know, so much for the light hearted urban comedy, right?
It sounds ominous but while Friday makes an effort to touch on certain aspects of the inner city experience, it’s all somewhat secondary to the slapstick. The requisite themes are all there - family, self sufficiency, resistance to violence and and graft, and what it really means to be a man (fists are all you need, apparently). I would argue that brains are all you need, but it’s not my script. And speaking of the script, Cube and DJ Pooh do a very solid job of touching on these themes while avoiding most of the ham-handed philosophical frippery you get in films written by say, Tyler Perry. Chris's journey from boy to man is not without meaning, but it manages to be fun and accessible enough that watching Friday for the first time in many years, I find myself a little sad I haven’t revisited it more recently.
In fact, considering the (creative) peaks and valleys to which Ice Cube and Chris Tucker have recently succumbed, it’s even slightly more depressing. But it’s fun to look back and bask in what once was, and what might have been. Friday is good clean fun, holds up pretty well, and if you’re into learning lessons, you’ll never eat another caramel chocolate crunch as long as you live.