Freaky Friday (United States, 2003)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

With 2003's Freaky Friday, Walt Disney Pictures is again cannibalizing its past. This is the third time the Magic Kingdom has turned out a version of Mary Rodgers' novel. The first instance, in 1976, starred Barbara Harris as the mother and Jodie Foster as her teenage daughter. 19 years later, Disney re-adapted the text, this time as a made-for-TV endeavor starring Shelly Long and Gabby Hoffman. In 2003, those roles are filled by Jamie Lee Curtis (one wonders if Disney tried to get Foster) and Lindsay Lohan (who already has one Disney remake on her resume - that of The Parent Trap). The philosophy behind the remake is solid. The 1976 version seems dated, and many of the girls who saw this movie during its initial theatrical run now have children around the same age they were at the time.

Freaky Friday is aimed squarely at the "tween" audience, and they will universally enjoy this movie, as will mothers who end up accompanying their offspring to theaters. Not being an 11-year old girl, I'm not in Disney's target audience, but I must admit having experienced a guilty pleasure while sitting through Freaky Friday. I certainly didn't hate the film, and, at times, I enjoyed its corny humor and low-key melodrama. It's not great cinema, but, despite problems with weak writing and sledgehammer moralizing, it is more often cute and appealing than clumsy and awkward. I give a lot of the credit to Curtis and Lohan, both of whom give top-notch performances.

Most people going into a multiplex to see this movie know the premise - it's a body-swapping film. (This was once a pretty popular cinematic fad. Thankfully, it died out after the hideous Kirk Cameron/Dudley Moore picture, Like Father, Like Son.) Dr. Tess Coleman (Curtis) is a stressed-out psychologist who is juggling being the single mother of two children, keeping her career afloat, and planning a marriage to the perfect guy (Mark Harmon). Tess' teenage daughter, Anna (Lohan), is having trouble in school because her English teacher hates her. Anna is also more interested in playing music with her bandmates (Haley Hudson, Christina Vidal) than in helping Tess with wedding preparations. And she believes that, in general, her mother is ruining her life. With the help of a little Chinese magic, Tess and Anna unwittingly switch bodies, and are consequently forced to see things from a different perspective. Tess discovers that being a teenager isn't as easy as it once was, and Anna decides that being a single mother isn't the piece of cake she thought it would be.

Neither Curtis nor Lohan takes the easy, over-the-top way out. Both of them do real acting, and that's the primary reason why Freaky Friday works as well as it does. Curtis does a great impression of an awkward teenager trapped in an older, less flexible body. There are a lot of nice subtleties in the performance, such as the way she uses her fingers. Likewise, Lohan enables us to believe that she is a mature, straight-laced woman squeezed into a younger, less lived-in form. It's a credit to both actresses that we never lose sight of the characters (Tess and Anna) once the switch has occurred.

Freaky Friday is motion picture cotton candy - sweet while it lasts, easily disposed of, and insubstantial. It will please those who seek it out, and probably won't horrify or disgust anyone who ends up seeing it for other reasons (dragged along, bribed, or otherwise coerced). There are enough clever and/or funny moments to provoke laughter from even a scowling 13-year old boy who wants to be next door watching Terminator 3 for the third time. The screenplay, credited to Heather Hach and Leslie Dixon, has its share of dead spots (all that stuff about the nearly-deaf grandfather is irritating), but is there anyone who doesn't think the "Crypt Keeper" line is great? Freaky Friday delivers what it promises - no more, no less. Modest goals, if achieved, aren't always disappointing.

Freaky Friday (United States, 2003)

Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2003-08-01
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1