Freaky Friday

By Kim Hollis

July 25, 2003

You will find love on Flag Day.

Another terrific entry in a series of 2003 “chick flicks,” Freaky Friday is a crowd-pleasing film that appeals to all ages and a surprisingly good time.

The modern remake is actually a rather clever idea, particularly given the fact that the 30-somethings that enjoyed the movie as kids are now parents themselves, and are familiar enough with the general story to feel very comfortable about taking their own children to see this somewhat known commodity. Back in 1976, the movie starred future Academy Award winner Jodie Foster as the typical teenage girl, with Barbara Harris as the mother (and John Astin as the befuddled father). It’s dated yet fondly remembered, and as such, is a natural choice for an update.

For the 21st century version, our mother/daughter team of Tess and Anna is played by Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsey Lohan (who previously did the Disney remake thing a few years ago in The Parent Trap). Naturally, Tess and Anna have a really hard time understanding each other, which is somewhat strange since Mom is a psychiatrist with a brand new book. But really, suspension of belief is practically a requirement here, and if this minor detail bugs you, so will the entire movie.

The real gist of the situation between mother and daughter is that Anna thinks Tess has an absolutely perfect life, but she also resents her mother for finding love with a new man so quickly after the death of her father. Meanwhile, Tess sees her daughter as an obstinate, willful troublemaker, constantly berating Anna for fights with her younger brother and also her lackluster performance at school. It seems that “what we have here is failure to communicate.”

It is here where the proprietor of a local Chinese restaurant inexplicably steps in. I should note that the characters and performances involved in this portion of the plot are horribly stereotyped to the point that they’re really pretty offensive. It’s a serious debit against what otherwise is a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

As for what happens next, anyone familiar with the first film knows the drill. The two wake up the following morning to find that they have swapped bodies. The situation is complicated for numerous reasons, from the fact that Anna has a major placement test at school to Tess’ impending nuptuals in only two days. Not only that, but Anna’s rock band has a serious opportunity to break out with an audition at the House of Blues.

Though Lohan is perfectly cast as the misunderstood, awkward teen and does a fine job of portraying the 40-something-in-a-teenager’s-body, the movie really belongs to Curtis. As mother Tess, she’s a modern but no-frills woman in complete control of her life, with perhaps the lone exception of wild child Anna. She really shines once she becomes the teenager, though, as it’s very easy to believe that a child dwells somewhere in those twinkling eyes. She plays sullen with aplomb, and is willing to take some risks here that most actresses would have difficulty embracing. As a result, Curtis is responsible for the lion’s share of the laughs, which are certainly plentiful.

There is an unavoidable feeling of “ick” in portions of the story. Since both Anna and Tess have romantic (or at least semi-romantic) interests in their lives, the transplanted mother/daughter have to fake attraction to the inappropriately-aged men, even as they must deny their feelings for the guys they truly adore. This disparity results in some uncomfortable moments, mostly arising between Curtis and Chad Murray as teenager Jake. While this young man’s performance is bold and worthy of note (there’s almost a Say Anything… moment in there somewhere), the actual interaction between Murray and Curtis feels creepy and unseemly. The relationship obviously never goes too far beyond the boundary of good taste, but the undertones are still disturbing.

At any rate, this complaint is very minor in the greater scheme of things, as Freaky Friday somehow manages to rise above its inconsistencies to be shockingly fun. Though Curtis and Lohan are responsible for the bulk of the film’s success, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Ryan Malgarini, who plays Anna’s brother/Tess’ son, Harry. Precocious and adorable, he’s well cast as the younger sibling who seems to get away with everything.

Ultimately, it’s these remarkable performances that make Freaky Friday an enjoyable experience. The fact that the movie is able to overcome various requisite Stupid Movie Conventions to get there is a strong compliment; even the most jaded of viewers should laugh despite themselves. I highly recommend it for anyone who has ever been a mother…or a daughter.

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