Directed by: F. Gary Gray
Written by: Ice Cube, DJ Pooh
Starring: Ice Cube, Chris Tucker, Nia Long, Tiny Lister, Jr., Regina King, Anna Maria Horsford, Bernie Mac, John Witherspoon
The final film in our Black Directors marathon is another triumph from the American independent film boom of the 1990’s. F. Gary Gray’s directorial debut Friday was a surprise hit that helped to further push Ice Cube into the mainstream as a multi-talented actor, launched the career of incredibly popular comedic actor Chris Tucker. Gray would go on to direct future hits like The Negotiator, The Italian Job, Be Cool, Law Abiding Citizen, and most recently the critically acclaimed Straight Outta Compton – he is also attached to direct the upcoming Fast 8. In regards to helping the careers of three incredibly successful young African American’s in Hollywood, Friday is an absolute triumph. Luckily for Gray and company, the film was success at far more than just that. The acclaimed stoner comedy was shot on a budget of just $3.5 million, and went on to earn over $28 million at the box office. Not only was Friday an unlikely financial success, but it also garnered positive reviews from critics of the time. It was celebrated by critics for being a consistently funny film with two charming and energetic lead performances from Ice Cube and Chris Tucker – something both men have been praised for over and over through their careers. Since its initial release in the mid-90’s, Friday has gone on to develop a rabid cult following, mostly due to the film’s nearly-infinite quotability – It also helped lay the groundwork for future successful stoner comedies like Pineapple Express, Dude, Where’s My Car?, and Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle among others. The film’s success led to two sequels being developed (Next Friday in 2000, and Friday After Next in 2002), as well as a very short-lived animated series titled Friday: The Animated Series in 2007. Both director F. Gary Gray and co-star Chris Tucker would not reprise their roles in future sequels, due to Gray following other passions, and Tucker becoming a born-again Christian. A fourth film in the series, currently known as Last Friday, is currently in development and could see a release later this year.
Friday follows a day in the life of best friends Craig (Ice Cube) and Smokey (Chris Tucker), two young men living in South Central Los Angeles. Craig has just lost his job and only source of expendable income (on his day off, no less), and Smokey is a weed dealer who smokes his supply faster than he can sell it. Smokey tells his friend that today is the day he’s finally going to get Craig high, as he does not smoke despite the protests of his best friend. The two friends encounter a wide assortment of characters from around their neighbourhood throughout their day, including Smokey’s intimidating weed supplier Big Worm (Faizon Love), Craig’s crush Debbie (Nia Long), his wealthy neighbour Stanley (Ronn Riser), the adulterous Pastor Clevor (Bernie Mac), and Deebo (Tiny Lister, Jr.), the neighbourhood bully who seemingly gets off on stealing from those weaker than him. After Big Worm questions Smokey on his lack of his money, the young stoner throws his best friend under the bus, claiming that the two smoked some of his supply to help Craig cope with the recent loss of his job. After hearing Smokey’s claim, he gives the two young men until 10:00PM that night to either hand over the money, the weed, or both Craig and Smokey will die. Both men try unsuccessfully to borrow the money from family members and friends throughout the afternoon. Eventually, Craig’s father Willie (John Witherspoon), finds Craig with a gun and learns about his son’s situation. Willie tries to talk Craig out of using the gun, telling him instead that using your fists goes just as far, but doesn’t hold all the consequences that using a gun does. Craig ignores his father’s advice, and he and Smokey desperately continue their search for Big Worm’s money. Will Craig and Smokey be able to get their dealer his money, or will the two young men suffer the grave consequences? Find out in F. Gary Gray’s cult stoner comedy, Friday.
I wasn’t sure at first what to expect going into Friday, seeing as how I’m not a huge fan of the stoner comedy genre, nor am I much of a fan of the more obnoxious aspects of weed culture in general. Thankfully, Friday ends our Black Directors marathon on a very positive note! After the disappointment that was Menace II Society (especially following two legitimate modern masterpieces in Boyz n the Hood and Malcolm X), I needed something of a pick-me-up, and Friday did just that. This film is absolutely hilarious from top to bottom, and somehow manages to be incredibly touching at the end – even though its ending is essentially just an all-out street fight. The amount of quotes that come from this film – “Bye Felisha!” and “You got knocked the FUCK out!” in particular – are both incredibly funny in context, but makes me wonder how both of these quotes became part of the semi-regular lexicon of internet culture. Chris Tucker’s performance in the film is easily the highlight, and it’s absolutely no wonder why he went on to become one of the most popular comedic performers of the 2000’s in the Rush Hour series. Ice Cube does a very competent job of playing the straight man to Tucker’s eccentric Smokey, but I don’t buy for a second that Cube’s Craig has never smoked pot before. Speaking of Craig smoking, the scene where he feels the effects of Smokey’s weed is an absolute knockout, even in its incredibly over-the-top nature. I don’t think I’ve laughed at any recent scene as hard as I did during this one, especially with Ice Cube trying to maintain his composure in front of his crush. The chemistry between Cube and Tucker can be felt in every minute they share the screen together, and they play off one another perfectly. It’s a shame Chris Tucker didn’t participate in the film’s sequels, as they might have been worth checking out with his involvement in them. Another standout in the film is John Witherspoon’s Willie, Craig’s father. Witherspoon plays a grumpy and somewhat goofy dog catcher, and his interactions with his son are always either hilarious or profound in an odd sort of way. His constant badgering of his son was something I looked forward to in every scene the two shared, and always got a smirk out of me. Witherspoon’s highlight is a brief moment when he is watching a television program involving a mailman being chased by an angry dog, while being cuddled up on his bed with a giant and adorable plush dog toy. The acting is very much the best aspect of Friday, especially since F. Gary Gray’s directional is so subdued and not nearly as energetic as the atmosphere the film gives off. Though this hurts the film somewhat, it also helps build the chemistry between Ice Cube and Chris Tucker, as the camera isn’t busy constantly moving or searching for other interesting things on screen.
Overall, I very much enjoyed what F. Gary Gray’s Friday had to offer. It’s incredibly sharp and hilarious, and credit is definitely owed to both Ice Cube and DJ Pooh for writing the original screenplay. You can feel the influence on later films in Friday’s strongest moments, especially those involving smoking pot and dealing with weed dealers and the wacky neighbourhood characters. The chemistry between Ice Cube and Chris Tucker is far and away the best thing about the film, and I wish they had collaborated on more than just the one film. Friday caps off our Black Directors marathon on a hilarious note, and becomes the final highlight of the incredibly rewarding month long series. Friday is highly recommended.