“Ya’ll ain’t never got two things that match”
By age twenty Ice Cube had proven himself an originator of gangsta rap with the seminal Straight Outta Compton from N.W.A and AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted as a solo artist. Two years later his role in Boyz n the Hood garnered enough critical acclaim to cement the Los Angeles native a red-hot commodity in Hollywood as well. And the successes kept coming with more albums, producing credits, and eventually a stoner comedy. Yes, the man known for his socio-political raps and controversially honest lyrics not only starred in Friday alongside Chris Tucker‘s manic insanity, he co-wrote it too. Everything Cube touched was turning to gold and most if not all of it would eventually go on to prove timelessly iconic. This pot-filled stoop-set romp is no exception.
Stoner comedies have received longevity as part of the zeitgeist before (Up in Smoke) and after (Half Baked and Super Troopers), but it’s rare. Twenty-one years after its release, I’m still on the floor in fits of laughter. It catapulted Tucker’s appeal before the world tired of his shtick by Rush Hour 3, serves as a who’s who of black actors starting hugely successful careers (Regina King, Nia Long, Bernie Mac, and Faizon Love), debuted director F. Gary Gray, and became the platform for a meme that’s taken a life of its own (“Bye, Felisha”). Endlessly quotable, bankable enough for two sequels, and ultimately hinged on a relevant message about putting guns down to truly “be men”, it has definitely earned its contemporary classic appeal.
The brainchild of Cube and rap producer DJ Pooh, Friday revolves around Craig (Cube)—a young man living at home who got fired on his day off. Unwilling to deal with the responsibility that comes with such an event, he waits until his parents (John Witherspoon‘s dogcatcher Mr. Jones and Anna Maria Horsford‘s Mrs.) go to work before chilling on the front porch with Smokey (Tucker) to watch the neighborhood’s antics. Unbeknownst to Craig, (but hardly surprising), is that his best bud is smoking weed he should be dealing. Suddenly this potentially calm day (as calm as possible with Tiny Lister Jr.‘s behemoth Deebo wreaking havoc) turns into one of dread. If they can’t find two hundred dollars, Smokey’s supplier Big Worm (Love) is going to kill them.
There are multiple opportunities to acquire this cash through loans or theft, but something inevitably mucks things up. And when you meet the menagerie of players on the fringes, you see exactly why. These two loafers have Craig’s jealous girlfriend Joi (Paula Jai Parker), the object of his affection Debbie (Long), her tweaked out sister constantly asking to borrow high-priced things to sell for drug money Felisha (Angela Means), Deebo’s psychopath, crackhead Ezal (Anthony Johnson) showing up out of nowhere, and a slew of others to provide entertainment, distraction, or frustration. It’s all presented as common daily occurrences too. Even the fear that Big Worm will order a drive-by is taken in stride because it’s merely a hazard of doing business. They’re aware of what’s at stake.
The beauty of the journey, however, is that we don’t worry about whether or not Craig and Smokey will be alive after ten o’clock. We know the plot is propelling itself towards that magic hour, but if they aren’t going to be worried why should we? We bask in the craziness instead: the juxtaposition of former “Price is Right” model Kathleen Bradley and diminutive Tony Cox as Mrs. and Mr. Parker, local pushover Red (DJ Pooh) getting abused, and Craig tripping on his first puff of marijuana in possibly forever. The latter’s a brilliant source of comedy because Cube appears normal until suddenly fixating on something he thinks made noise. Between him and Johnson’s Ezal bouncing off the walls, the stoner adjective is in very good hands.
And that’s not even mentioning Tucker’s Smokey puffing away from the first moment he’s on-screen. High is his natural state, though. He needs Mary Jane to stay coherent. So Tucker’s really just being himself: always with a retort, bug-eyed and nervous as he literally cannot shut up whether speaking words or mouthing them. He’s the flashier performance with the most laughs, but don’t let this fact discount Cube’s success as the straight man. His is the more difficult role to maintain and it’s one the rapper has built his career upon. We feel for his Craig because we know he’s received a bad rap even if he hasn’t really helped himself turn it around. He’s a stand-up guy with the potential to do the right thing.
Everyone surrounding Craig helps him make the right decision when the time comes to choose between stereotype and maturity. Smokey reminds him of what not to do while his father supplies the sage—albeit weirdly delivered—advice to rise above. Witherspoon is the unsung hero both as a character laying down hard truths and one provoking the biggest guffaws from the audience. Forever with food in his hands to lick off his fingers and constantly on the toilet sharing wisdom without a shred of embarrassment, Mr. Jones is the epitome of no-nonsense paternal instinct. Unfiltered and uncouth, he subversively becomes the role model rather than the knuckleheads most adults probably feared their kids would mimic after seeing the film. Friday‘s funny, raw, and poignant? Don’t sound so surprised.