I like to be surprised by a movie – and few films took me quite as unawares as the Afro-American teen comedy Friday.
It starts like many low-key teen movies do – with a montage of all the members of a family asleep in their separate beds, a moment before their workaday routines begin.
Most movies of this ilk usually move on to events of a more spectacular nature, but not this one. For virtually its entire length, it shows two young guys, Craig (rapper Ice Cube) and Smokey (comedian Chris Tucker), hanging out on their front porch. Other characters come and go, a few stray plot events play themselves out and night falls, but we virtually never leave this tiny territorial zone of the hood.
Anyone like me who has a fondness for daggy films about daily life will be intrigued by this odd piece of work. With its charmingly amateurish acting, its bizarre film noir lighting overlaid on sitcom scenes, and its endless procession of populist ratbags, Friday recalls a line of modest, delightful comedies from Car Wash (1976) to Krush Groove (1985).
It's not all deadpan whimsy, however. Director F. Gary Gray regularly juices up proceedings with a tall-tale flashback, a jokey soundtrack sampling from a pop-soul classic, or a sudden piece of frenetic slapstick. Here, the debt to the energetic House Party series is clear.
Am I making this film sound like Clerks (1994) or Clueless (1995)? If so, be warned: Friday probably meets nobody's definition of a quality teen movie. Low culture doesn't get much lower than this: protracted Cheech-and-Chong-style routines about tripping on drugs; fast motion mugging as in a Benny Hill skit; a level of scatological farce that makes Dumb and Dumber (1994) seem restrained; and horrendously tasteless jokes about obese women, 'little people' and drive-by shootings.
Just before the end, the film – scripted by Cube and DJ Pooh – tries to get serious and preachy. It proposes a novel attitude towards urban violence: guns are bad; but brutal, bone-crushing fistfights are OK.
Friday is a screwy movie that, foreseeably, will be championed by no one. Perhaps not even the few adventurers who discover it in town or later on video will want to admit that they were tickled by it. But ultimately this is the kind of film that is beyond good and evil. I tapped my foot madly to the soundtrack and gawked at the screen in wide-eyed amazement from start to end.
In my book, that rates as a worthwhile cinematic experience.
sequel: Friday After Next
© Adrian Martin October 1995