Film Reviews: Wednesday, August 6, 2003
Freaky Friday
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan. Directed by Mark Waters. Written by Heather Hach and Leslie Dixon, based on Mary Rodgers’ novel. Rated PG.
Off Switch

Mother and daughter discover life in each other’s shoes one Freaky Friday.


Disney first made Mary Rodgers’ novel Freaky Friday into a movie in 1976, at a time when its filmmaking division was in bad shape. The original, starring Barbara Harris and a 13-year-old Jodie Foster, was a messy affair filled with predictable hijinks, and it offered lots of room for improvement. The much better-looking remake stars Jamie Lee Curtis as Tess Coleman, a psychiatrist and author who’s going through a strained period with her 15-year-old daughter Anna (Lindsay Lohan). Between her professional commitments and preparing to get married for the second time, Tess is overworked and thinks her daughter has it easy by comparison. Anna, of course, knows her mom has no clue about the pitfalls of high school. When they have a loud argument on the subject at a Chinese restaurant, the owner gives them fortune cookies that cause them to wake up the next morning trapped in each other’s bodies.

OK, I have a problem here. This whole thing about how these Chinese people make the switch happen by running some “Asian voodoo” (the movie’s words, not mine) ticks me off, and not just because I’m Asian. It’s no better when Hollywood movies have African-American characters with magical powers that change the lives of white people (Bruce Almighty, The Family Man, The Legend of Bagger Vance, etc.). The same casual prejudice is at work — the idea that people of color have some weird juju working for them. Trust me; we really don’t.

The movie’s problems run deeper than this, though. There’s supposed to be a time element here — mother and daughter have to get back in their bodies before mom gets married the next day — but there’s no urgency and little direction to the plot. As with the original, the two women act far out of character, yet no one else in the movie seems to suspect that something’s up. The film also slides into mushiness near the end, where the two have to demonstrate their love for each other before they can get their real selves back. Also, the two stars don’t do as much with the switch as you’d hope. Curtis looks like she’s having fun, but she’s too fundamentally sane a performer to pull off playing a 15-year-old trapped in a 40-something body.

She and Lohan do take skillful pratfalls, however. Director Mark Waters knows how to stage sight gags, as he proved in his otherwise forgettable 2001 comedy Head Over Heels. His talent is better appreciated here, toned down for a PG-rated setting, and while it isn’t enough by itself to save the movie, it is important because it creates laughs often enough to keep the film from dragging. In a rich joke for those who remember the actress’ pinup days, Curtis as Anna gets her first look at her morning face and screams, “I’m old! I look like the Crypt Keeper!” The new version of Freaky Friday is hipper, smarter, and better-made than its predecessor. Too bad it didn’t have a new take on the body-switching story that would have made it worthy of standing on its own.

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