**1/2 (out of four)
FREAKY FRIDAY. LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON. VICE VERSA. The titles strike terror deep in the hearts of moviegoers everywhere. These films, if you have been lucky enough to avoid them, all play off the same uproarious concept: parent and child swap bodies via mystical balderdash and learn so many life lessons about one another that it almost makes you sick.
It’s a lazy, tiresome concept that movie executives were cultivated since birth to embrace – simple, stupid and guaranteed to include all sorts of sure-fire yuks like little Bobby wearing a business suit while his father rocks out on air guitar. The formula is practically foolproof:
Kids acting like adults? Hilarious. Adults acting like kids? SUPER hilarious.
Unable to conjure up even an original title, the new remake of 1976’s FREAKY FRIDAY begins as a colossally boring undertaking. Dr. Tess Coleman (Jamie Lee Curtis) is a no-nonsense psychiatrist juggling a fast-paced career, an impending marriage to Ryan (Mark Harmon), and the day-to-day nightmare of dealing with Anna (Lindsay Lohan), a sullen daughter who thinks she’s Avril Lavigne – she wears T-shirts and army fatigue pants, which, if you didn’t know, is like way totally alternative.
Things go from dull to duller when Anna’s rock band’s big audition falls on the same night as her mom’s wedding rehearsal dinner. As bad luck would have it, the staff of a Chinese restaurant witnesses the family arguing and decides to intervene. They slip mom and daughter identical tainted fortune cookies. No, the cookies aren’t soaked in cyanide, just deadly cliché.
Before you can stand up and scream “I want my money back”, the two selfish women have swapped bods. They paw their own flesh, scream into mirrors and hyperventilate. And then something amazing happens.
The movie gets really funny.
All credit goes Curtis and Lohan who, through sheer force of will alone, turn this piece of disposable plastic pop into a thoroughly pleasant PG-rated farce. For a while, it is physically painful to see the talented Curtis reduced to making quips like, “You mean we’re, like, stuck in this suck-fest?”
But gradually she settles into the role. She plays the character like an older woman who has suddenly remembered what it was like to be young, and there’s a bemused look of wonder that is both funny and sad. There’s a subplot involving Anna’s teen boyfriend falling for Anna’s mom (really Anna inside Tess’s body) that comes off as remarkably plausible. Curtis, who is 45 years old, makes the attraction seem natural.
Meanwhile, Lohan is so controlled and mature that her marriage to the 40-something Ryan just as logical. Lohan is every bit as convincing as Curtis, barking orders at her school teachers and demanding total abstinence from her “friends” at high school, while her eyes flash sharp and accusatory. The scenes that pit Lohan and Curtis against one another are the most enjoyable, for they both argue with an immersive passion that feels almost disturbingly authentic.
The film, of course, has no where original to go – Tess screws up life at high school and Anna screws up life at the office, and everybody learns a very special lesson. But, like a good episode of TV’s “Saved by the Bell”, just because you know where it’s headed doesn’t mean there isn’t a tremendous amount of pleasure in watching it get there.
But let’s not go overboard here. FREAKY FRIDAY is only noteworthy for being relatively inoffensive. Most live-action Disney films are so blatantly manipulative you feel dirty watching it. This film is just as manipulative (not to mention the material was rotten over a decade ago) but no one seems to have told the actors. Their earnest performances save the movie, turning FREAKY FRIDAY into – yes, I’m going to say it! – the best uptight-parent-swaps-bodies-with-out-of-control-teen film ever made.
– Daniel Kraus
Daniel Kraus is a syndicated columnist and filmmaker. Below is the trailer to his film, Ball of Wax.