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Freaky Friday (2003) Print E-mail
Wednesday, 06 August 2003
Some movie ideas work well when dusted off and refurbished. The best version of "The Maltese Falcon," for example, was the third one (with Bogart). "Freaky Friday" has also been filmed by Disney twice before, once in 1977 with Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster, and again for television in 1995, with Shelley Long and Gabby Hoffman. This third version is, again, imaginative, funny and well-acted; it has been very carefully updated, and new issues are introduced.

But the basic story remains the same: mom and her teenage daughter swap bodies for a day, much to their shock. And each learns a very great lessons from this magical event; they wind up closer than before. The movies were all adapted from the novel by Mary Rodgers; the basic idea, of course, has turned up in other movies as well. But the new "Freaky Friday" explores it as well as any film has so far.

Widowed Tess Coleman (Jamie Lee Curtis), a driven psychologist, considers her 15-year-old daughter Anna (Lindsay Lohan) a major handful. Anna frequently winds up in detention at high school, her mother considers her clothes and hair to be outrageous, and they're constantly quarreling over almost everything in their lives. Tess doesn't get along with her younger brother Harry (Ryan Malgarini), who constantly teases her, but acts like a little angel when their mother is around.

Most importantly, though, Tess is about to get married again, to amiable Ryan (Mark Harmon). Ryan works at being friendly with Anna, but she'll have none of it. We gradually learn that she deeply misses her late father, and is resentful that her mother is asking Ryan to join their family.

Meanwhile, Anna and her friends (Christina Vidal and Haley Hudson) have formed a rock band, Pink Slip, and are eagerly looking forward to their first big chance. They're getting it on Friday night, a chance to audition at the House of Blues on Sunset Strip. Trouble is that's the same night as the big wedding dinner, and Tess considers Anna's desire to work with her band a kind of betrayal.

At a Chinese restaurant, an old lady notices the two of them quarreling, and slips them identical fortune cookies. Soon after the squabbling Tess and Anna read the fortunes, there's something like an earthquake that only they can feel. The next morning, the big change has taken place: each wakes up in the other's body. While Anna-as-Tess is horrified to find she's gotten old and looks like the Crypt Keeper, Tess-as-Anna is very worried that her daughter is going to do something to foul everything up.
Each, of course, learns that she was quite wrong about the pressures and demands of the other's life, and Anna-as-Tess in particular learns how much her mother -- and even her bratty brother -- deeply love her. Tess-as-Anna learns that being a teenager today is a whole heck of a lot different from when she was a kid.

Anna was in the process of flipping for somewhat older Jake (Chad Michael Murray), a very cool guy who wears a leather coat and rides a Ducati motorcycle. He's interested in her, too -- but after the switch, he's very confused to find himself NOT interested in Anna (with Tess's mind), and interested in Tess (with Anna's mind). As Tess-as-Anna tells her daughter, he really is interested in your mind.

That's the great virtue of this version of "Freaky Friday." Aside from the switch itself and the confusion that it causes, the issues of the lives of each of them are treated seriously, with respect. Anna really is working hard at being a good kid, despite the clothing her mother considers outrageous, but she's also finding her own way in the world. Someone once said that the only love story that ends with a parting is the parent-child relationship. Anna and Tess are near to that parting, and it is eating away at both of them, in different ways. The movie is courageous enough to suggest that without this magical switch, mother and daughter are in danger of drifting apart forever.

We see that Ryan is a decent man who is trying to fit into Tess' family; he even takes what he regards as gargantuan mood swings (i.e. the two after the switch) in stride, endeavoring to greet this with the best attitude. Jake isn't a hoodlum, despite Tess' initial beliefs; he's a good kid who's going to school full time and holding down two jobs. But mostly the switch is used for comedy, of course; ol’' Grandpa (Harold Gould) doesn't really notice it all that much, but young Harry is baffled by a sister who, the day before, thought of him as a pest, and who today calls him honey and strokes his hair. And his mother -- once so understanding now seems to take Tess' side in everything.

There are some jokes, of course, coming out of the clashing styles of the two. In Anna's body, Tess insists on dressing in responsible clothes (and fusses over those of her friends); in Tess' body, Anna immediately uses these wonderful credit cards to buy a sexy new outfit -- and on Curtis' body, it looks great. Anna really does have a sense of style.

The two actresses are excellent, particularly Curtis. In her own life, she's the mother of a teenage daughter, who told her mom that she, Curtis, was the most teenager-like adult she knew. This means that it's the Tess-as-Tess scenes that provided the greatest challenge to the effervescent, youthful Curtis; the Anna-as-Tess scenes were what she does ordinarily, on screen and in real life. She has a wonderfully mobile face and a dancer's body; she's fully in control, and just excellent. This is her best performance in years.

Lindsay Lohan is also excellent; in her short career, she's actually played a role a bit like this once before -- in 1998, she played the twins in the remake of "The Parent Trap." She maybe widens her eyes a little too often, but each of the stars has the mannerisms of the other down pat. There's never any doubt at all which mind is in which body.

The very imaginative screenplay by Heather Hatch and Leslie Dixon never relies on stereotypes or clichés; Anna's band is a good, hard-working bunch of kids; the other students at school aren't caricatures. The only deviation, and it's brief, from this path is when Anna-as-Tess has to deal with her mother's patients. It's always fresh and inventive, and doesn't, as did the original, resort to a big chase for a finish. Instead, the big finish is the audition at the House of Blues, and the very moving scene that follows, as Tess-as-Anna sees her daughter (in her body) willing to sacrifice her own happiness for the sake of her family. You don't hardly get stuff like that in movies for The Whole Family, and "Freaky Friday" is all the better for it.

The movie may not be quite up to "The Princess Diaries" of a few years ago, but it's a very good, very satisfying night out at the movies. It really is for the whole family, and that means that adults can see it on their own without worrying if their friends catch them at it. This is a genuinely good movie, and everyone connected with it deserves a lot of praise.

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