September 2003

FREAKY FRIDAY

A film by Mark Waters
Running time: 1 hour 33 minutes
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Lindsay Lohan, Harold Gould, Mark Harmon

I went to see this more or less against my will. I mean, after all - a remake, no less, of the old Disney flick FREAKY FRIDAY, for crying out loud? Not that I remembered the original, mind you, although I had seen it as a youth. Upon looking it up later in Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide, an indispensable reference for those interested in film, I read that the original had starred Jodie Foster and John Astin.

I agreed to go only after taking a quick tour of rottentomatoes.com, the place to go to see a film's reviews. Rottentomatoes gave FREAKY FRIDAY an impressive 87 percent positive, which sounded good to me. So off we went, wife, 10-year-old daughter and I. Not that I didn't still have misgivings. I mean, after all - FREAKY FRIDAY?

(Note: as I write this, on September 6, 2003, FREAKY FRIDAY's "fresh" index at rottentomatoes is up to 90%. Out of 118 tabulated reviews, that is, 106 are positive,and only 12 are derogatory. That's a pretty good margin, from where I sit.)

Having been a Jamie Lee Curtis fan since John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN, way back when, I'm happy to say that she does herself proud in this film. She seems to be having a great time. Her physical performance propels the film. Why isn't she doing more comedy? She seems to have a real gift for it.

The film opens mere days before Curtis, a single mom, marries a man (Mark Harmon, rather under-utilized here but gamely giving it his best) whom her teenage daughter, Anna, despises. Harmon's character is a nice guy. He genuinely likes Anna and tries to understand her, but she still remembers her late father all too vividly and can't accept her Mom's new love.

The dynamic between Anna and her mother is one that will ring true to most parents in the audience. Anna is no dummy. She's talented and (dare I say it) unaware of how privileged she is. But Curtis, whose character is a professional psychologist, runs her house with an iron hand, going so far as to cut the power when Anna's garage band continues its rehearsal beyond its six o'clock deadline. Anna whines that her former best friend and her English teacher are out to get her, and that her little brother is always trying to get her into trouble, all of which Mom pooh-poohs. Worst of all, from Mom's viewpoint, is the fact that Anna's band suddenly has an opportunity the next night to play an important talent contest - a direct conflict with the wedding rehearsal dinner.

Mom just can't see how real Anna's problems are to her, and Anna is too young to really understand the intricacies of her mom's demanding life. They are at total loggerheads. Then fate, as they say, steps in, in the form of a wacky but well-meaning Asian mom at a Chinese restaurant, who gives the two females magic fortune cookies. And the next morning, Anna and her mom wake up to discover, to their horror, that they have switched bodies.

What ensues, is, of course, chaos for both of them. "Anna," now in her Mom's body, goes nuts with credit cards and indulges in a trendy make-over of her rather staid mom's wardrobe and hair style. Although she isn't a very good driver, Anna gets the car by default.

"Mom," stuck in her daughter's body, eschews Anna's wild hair and hip-hugging jeans and goes lady-like off to school. Pretty soon she discovers that Anna hasn't been making empty claims: her former friend really has become a bitch, and her teacher really does have it in for her, because of some history with the Curtis character.

Come noon they regroup and hurry back to the restaurant, where they confront the woman who initiated the change. They are shocked to discover that they will never be able to switch back until they have truly grown to understand each other's life - which is something they are very reluctant to do because of their preconceptions.

But will Anna, in Mom's body, have to marry Mark Harmon? How will her mom, who is tone-deaf, ever be able to play the guitar in the audition?

Well, of course, all is well that ends well, and it's no give-away here to say that this does end well, although it gets right down to the wire.

FREAKY FRIDAY is not a rockem-sockem movie, although there is some pretty good rock music in it. It's sweet, slightly kinky (the guy interested in Anna gets interested in Mom for a while, while Anna is inhabiting her, because Anna's personality and tastes are very much like his, after all), well-acted (especially by the female leads), and has a number of pretty good laughs. As I've said, there aren't any surprises along the way, but it actually does have its own little message about how easy it is to get so lost in your own little world that you start thinking it's the only one that matters. It does project a somewhat condescending attitude toward Asians, but aside from that, FREAKY FRIDAY is a decently made little film, very good family fare. Swap bodies with your kids and go have some fun with it.