Written by Ice Cube & DJ Pooh
Directed by F. Gary Gray
I haven’t laughed watching a comedy film like this in a very long time. This was a couldn’t stop, tears in my eyes, perpetual motion machine of laughing. Friday was an independent picture made by people that were figuring out how to be filmmakers and showing some of the best promise of any debut I’ve ever witnessed. Yes, there are weak points, and not all the jokes hit, but this is an instance where gags are being thrown at the screen every second. When ones do hit, they connect hard, and you’ll find yourself uncontrollably losing it.
In South Central Los Angeles, it’s Friday, and Craig (Ice Cube) just got fired from his parcel delivery job. His family (John Witherspoon, Anna Maria Horsford, Regina King) are continually ragging on him for not going out and finding something new, but Craig feels aimless. His friend Smokey (Chris Tucker) comes over to hang out, and the two get into a series of escalating problems as the day rolls on. They deal with a neighborhood kid knocking over trash cans, watch the drama unfold between an older woman, the preacher, and her husband, they try to hook up various women that stop by, and deal with two dangerous elements in the community. By the end of the day, they will have outrun machine gun fire and be forced to take on the neighborhood bully.
The cause of my eruptive laughter was John Witherspoon as Craig’s father. I am familiar with Witherspoon from his regular role on The Wayans Brothers show in the 1990s. He is so much better when he doesn’t have to censor himself for television. Witherspoon perfected playing a character type, an older over the top fatherly/uncle figure. His comedic choices and timing are so spot on I have to assume he was the cause of numerous crack-ups on set. There is a moment near the end where one character remarks that Craig thinks he’s a mac, and Witherspoon responds with perfect timing, “Macaroni.” It is an entirely absurd line that isn’t intended as an insult necessarily, just an ad-libbed reaction. It had me rolling.
Ice Cube was the guiding creative force behind Friday, and his intent was to combat the stereotype that life in the hood was garnering from other pictures like Menace 2 Society and Boyz in the Hood. He thought that non-Black people were thinking South Central was just a violent war zone, so he co-wrote a script that emphasized the everyday humor and larger than life characters he knew from growing up. Friday could be said to be a West Coast response to Do the Right Thing, another day in the life movie. We never see a single white face the entire picture, the only non-Black cast members being a couple of Chicano men. You see all types of Black people from the blue-collar working class to the poor, young and old, shaking off the stereotypes you see in white-authored media of the time.
The plot is super loose, somewhat like the Zucker Brothers Naked Gun and Airplane films but not a complete parody. The third act does get more plot-focused, but most of the movie is laid back and allows itself to float where ever it pleases. The cast of characters is vast, and everyone is fantastic playing their role. There is some eye-rolling misogyny that woefully dates the picture. Women are cheated on without a second thought and called “hos” throughout. When Smokey hooks up with a blind date, she is an overweight woman who wears a wig, and so his reaction is complete disgust. Derogatory language is used to mock her weight. This content doesn’t happen enough to ruin the movie, but I felt myself laughing a lot less or not at all when it dominating the story a few minutes. Friday is a classic piece of Black cinema, though, an ambitious independent comedy that holds up and still gets me to crack up today.