The 1980’s featured a plethora of films that were putatively harrowing given their innovative device of “body-switching”. The switch usually took place between a man and a boy, be it parent and child, (Like Father, Like Son) or two mismatched friends (Vice Versa). With Freaky Friday, the latest resurrection of that sub-genre from Disney, the body swap comes between two females, a mother and daughter who are fed up with each other because they just can’t understand each other’s values or perspectives.
Just acting my age?
From a narrative standpoint, the body-swapping premise can be far too familiar for many; in fact, Freaky Friday is the second remake of the 1976 original that starred Barbara Harris and a very young Jodie Foster. The initial remake was strictly for television and starred Shelley Long and Gaby Hoffman as the mother and daughter. The producers at Disney have proclaimed themselves the kings of sequels and restorations, and in a rare occurrence, this endeavor is unexpectedly, and delightfully, successful.
Dr. Tess Coleman (Jamie Lee Curtis) is a widowed psychiatrist with imminent and blissful plans to re-marry the perfect guy (Mark Harmon). Tess knows Anna (Lindsay Lohan), her teenage daughter, believes she is moving on too quickly and Anna uses this belief as a justification for various acts of daughterly rebellion. In support of her claims of parental injustice, Anna bemoans her mother ruining her life by; not allowing to enter the “House of Blues” with her heavy metal band; requiring Anna to attend the pre-ceremonial wedding dinner, and other assorted crimes against the conventional teenager. Their frustrations continue to escalate, even in public at a Chinese restaurant. The owner overhears their bickering and meddles into their lives, giving them each a magic fortune cookie that subsequently switches their bodies and compels a different prospective upon them. And in typical switcharoo fashion, they live each other’s life and experience the difficult tasks of one another: single mom and hard-pressed teenager.
Directed by Mark Waters (Head Over Heels), Freaky Friday is a mirthful ride from beginning to end. Numerous scenes will, if not have you one rolling around on the floor, at the very least you will have trouble not grabbing your stomach in agony. For instance, Anna newly trapped inside her mother’s body, looks at herself in a mirror and says, “I look like the crypt keeper.” Conversely, Tess is thrust into a newfelt awareness of current modes of teenage self-expression by discovering a delicate, and carefully placed spike through her - make that Anna’s - naval.
What makes Freaky Friday such a romping joy is the obvious chemistry, and ease of interplay between Jamie Lee Curtis and her adolescent co-star, Lindsay Lohan. Both actresses hold nothing back and immerse their roles with full abandon. While it is arguably manageable for an adult to portray a teenager, the task of a sixteen year old exhibiting the maturity of an adult would seem more difficult, not to mention mimicking the co-star’s foundation of character. Lindsay Lohan, who was the little girl in another Disney remake of The Parent Trap, artfully assumes her role, alternating from pubescent to adult without a seam showing. Jamie Lee Curtis is equally endearing, and it is a breath of fresh air to watch her have fun and not scream, running from the knife of Michael Myers. This is easily her best, most challenging performance since True Lies. Both actresses keep us in sight of each character even though they are in different form physically, without which, this movie would have ended up on Blockbuster’s video shelf faster than a farcical attack from Saturday Night Live on politics after a disputative decision.
In the end, Freaky Friday is a marvelously enthusiastic, good-humored update of an all but exhausted theme. The presumed targeted audience of young teenage girls will undoubtedly have a blast, and those who mistakenly believe they would rather be caught dead than watching this film will be pleasantly surprised; I kid you not. The story is polished, the one-liners are actually clever and creative (along with the occasional clunker), and most importantly, the five-star performances are charming. This is hard to find in the annual assault of summer flicks and it is what makes Freaky Friday one of the most engaging motion pictures of the year.