Along with The Parent Trap, Freaky Friday was one of the few rays of campy delight produced by Disney’s hit-and-miss live-action factory of the ’60s and ’70s. Starring overly wise, plucky teens — Hayley Mills as mischievous twins in Trap and Jodie Foster as the hormonal daughter of a single mom in the first Friday — audiences watched as the girls turned the tables on stodgy adults and everybody learned to live a little.
Disney has apparently anointed Lindsay Lohan as its bearer of the live-action standard, having her reprise not only Mills’ role in 1998, but now in Freaky Friday as a 21st century grrl who falls victim to the machinations of a nattering Chinese biddy and wakes up in her psychologist mom’s body.
This is the umpteenth update of the switcheroo story, by now Hollywood rote, whose fate lies completely in the performances of its principals and details of its screenwriting. (I myself am partial to the Fred Savage-Judge Reinhold romp, Vice Versa, if only because little Fred is priceless while drinking an adult-sized martini.) Lohan starts out as 15-year-old Anna, who is most definitely not a nerd nor an outcast, but manages to find high school a horrible trial all the same.
Her mother is a career-driven widow named Tess (Jamie Lee Curtis), who just doesn’t understand why Anna has to play rock music, has a hateful relationship with an ex-best friend and has the hots for a boy with a motorcycle, Jake (Chad Michael Murray). But Tess has her own matters to deal with — needy patients, running a household — and she’s about to be married to a completely innocuous gentleman (played by the completely innocuous Mark Harmon).
Once the body swap happens, Curtis and Lohan have plenty of fun trying to be each other. This Freaky Friday is actually very entertaining, most of which is due to the engaging, sharp script by Heather Hach and Leslie Dixon. And while Lohan and Curtis are clearly the stars of a film that will make buckets of money based on its relatively low production costs and long DVD shelf life, the show is nearly stolen by Ryan Malgarini, the scamp who plays Anna’s younger brother Harry. His scenes are among the best in the film, and the brother-sister moments are where Freaky Friday manages to forget that it’s just another switcheroo flick and actually ascends into real movie territory.
When Anna realizes the control she can exert over Harry when she’s stuck in her mother’s body, it’s even better than Fred Savage sucking down a cocktail.
Erin Podolsky writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].