Dir. F Gary Gray
Written by: Ice Cube and DJ Pooh
Starring: Ice Cube, Chris Tucker, Tiny Lister, John Witherspoon
Friday is one of those seminal comedies for me that I grew up watching, first on television in my parents’ home, then at sleepovers at friends’ houses, and finally into adulthood anytime I wanted to just throw on a funny movie and pay sparing attention to it while I have other tasks to accomplish. I’ve got every line of the movie memorized, and I’ve seen it enough times that I could probably replay its images perfectly on the back of my eyelids in my sleep. Somehow, though I know when my favorite lines and scenes will arrive, the movie never fails to disappoint me and it never gets old. It has the familiarity and comfort of an old sweater, enveloping and warming me with its humor, and making me feel like I’ve arrived in a place of serenity. Friday is one of my favorite chill-out movies, and I can’t be the only person who feels that way, because the movie has been an enduring success, helping to legitimize Ice Cube’s nascent film career, and preceding a pair of sequels. It’s another movie that I like to watch because it’s just fun and familiar and it takes me back to a place where I was just discovering a love of movies and humor, and I enjoy the nostalgic aspect of it.
The titular Friday refers to a day that Craig (Ice Cube) wakes up with no job and nothing to do except hang out on the front porch with his best friend Smokey (Tucker) and preside over the comings and goings of their block in Watts. Craig and Smokey spend the day getting high and cutting up on their neighbors while trying to avoid run-ins with neighborhood bully, Deebo (Lister), and Big Worm (Faizon Love), a drug dealer whom Smokey owes $200. The friends try to devise schemes to get Big Worm’s money, but when Craig’s family is unwilling to lend him any money, and Smokey continues to smoke all of his weed rather than sell it, they have to take desperate measures to try to get the money, with Smokey attempting to steal it from a sleeping Deebo. When Smokey is unsuccessful, he and Craig are forced to face the music, and Big Worm tries to shoot them in a drive by. While they successfully evade the gunfire, Craig finds himself walking right into a showdown with Deebo when he tries to defend his crush, Debbie (Nia Long), from Deebo’s attacks. The two fight in the street and though Deebo gets the better of Craig initially, Craig takes his beating and comes back at Deebo with a brick, knocking him the fuck out. In the end, Craig becomes a neighborhood hero for standing up to Deebo, manages to get the girl, and starts off his first weekend of unemployment on a high note.
One of the best, and most appealing, aspects of Friday to me is that the movie not only has great performances from Ice Cube and Chris Tucker in the lead roles, it also features a who’s who of prominent comedians in supporting roles. Craig and Smokey’s neighborhood is full of colorful characters and even the smallest roles are memorable thanks to the excellent and diverse comedic styles of the movie’s cast. Friday isn’t really an ensemble comedy, but Craig and Smokey almost fulfill the role of a Greek chorus, sitting on Craig’s porch and observing, and commenting on, their weird neighbors and family. John Witherspoon is a standout as Craig’s cantankerous father, a dog catcher who hates dogs and who disparages Craig for his joblessness and lackadaisical attitude. The veteran character actor is adept at physical comedy and provides many of the film’s memorable zingers and catch phrases, with his comedic energy contrasting with straight man Ice Cube’s laconic line delivery. Anna Maria Horsford matches Witherspoon’s performance, playing Craig’s mother as a strong, no-nonsense woman who also doesn’t shy away from the opportunity to crack jokes at her son’s expense. Bernie Mac and Ronn Riser are both funny in small appearances, as a preacher and as Craig’s fastidious, wealthy neighbor, Stanley, respectively. Cube’s co-writer, DJ Pooh, is memorable as Red, the sad-sack loser who Deebo repeatedly victimizes, and Lister is a proper villain, monstrous and physical. This depth and breadth in the cast lends Friday a broad, and unique, comedic sensibility, one that would come to be emulated by the film’s own sequels, and by mainstream stoner comedies throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. The brief, scene-stealing appearances by now-famous comedians also gives Friday a high degree of rewatchability, because there are so many absurdly funny moments to relish in.
Of course, though, a buddy comedy like Friday is only as successful as its primary pairing, and Ice Cube and Chris Tucker make for a classic comedic duo. Cube lends the movie serious street cred with his cool, laid back line delivery, and thousand yard stare, while Tucker keeps the comedic energy sky high. The two actors are perfect foils for one another, and the movie wouldn’t work well without their performances at the core. Although Friday is supposed to be Craig’s story, Smokey is the breakout character, and Tucker’s manic energy gives the movie its life force. Tucker propels the story forward, with the movie often taking divergences from the narrative prompted by Smokey’s stories, or following Smokey into situations that Craig is absent from. Friday was an important movie for pushing both Cube and Tucker into mainstream movie stardom, and there’s little arguing that Cube has had the more successful career to date, but Tucker steals Friday in a way that makes one think the movie was written and conceived of as a vehicle to launch his career, specifically. He chews the scenery, mouth running a mile a minute, and steals every scene that he’s featured in, supplying the film’s most memorable moments and lines. I think that Tucker’s Smokey does need Cube’s Craig as a foil, but not nearly as much as Friday the movie depends on Tucker to provide the laughs that Cube isn’t fully able to. Ice Cube is a pretty fine actor, but he’s always playing some version of his own star persona, whereas Tucker’s star persona has largely become informed by his signature performance as Smokey. As the sequels would come to prove, without Tucker’s energy, the Friday formula doesn’t work nearly as well.
In a lot of ways, Friday and its comedy contemporaries laid out the blueprint for a specifically 1990s style of comedy. As hip hop was emerging as a dominant force in mainstream music and pop culture, Hollywood responded by greenlighting dramas and comedies that reflected a changing demographic and cultural landscape. In this film, Ice Cube found himself at the intersection of gangsta rap and mainstream film comedy, a move that would foretell his eventual status as a media mogul, headlining multiple huge film comedy franchises. Though Cube has sometimes become a punchline for appearing in Disney films and other family-oriented entertainment later in his career, there’s no denying the credibility and originality of Friday. It opened the doors for a new type of entertainment, and for other rappers to try their hands at acting and headlining movie franchises. The film’s run-away success dovetailed with a sea change in popular entertainment, and its sense of humor helped develop a new trope in comedy. I still love returning to this classic just as much as I did when I was a young person, and I probably will be watching Friday when I want a laugh and a pick-me-up for years to come.