Freaky Friday (1976 & 2003)

Posted by on Dec 19, 2011 in Just My Imagination | 0 comments


Disclaimer: Some risque sexual situations in the worst game of jinx/fortune cookie ever played/devoured.

Body swap movies are hardly strangers to Hollywood family films, showing up as early as 1948’s Vice Versa. But Disney’s 1976 version of Mary Rodgers’ book created a landslide in the decades that followed with Like Father Like Son, Vice Versa, 13 Going on 30, 17 Again, and, perhaps the cream of the crop, Big. The sub-genre proved so successful that Disney recycled its own film two more times in a little less than 30 years.

In the case of the first, we follow a typical 13-year-old girl (Jodie Foster), who hates the way she looks, despises her picture-perfect brother, and crushes on the neighbor boy (Marc McClure). “I have a lot of worries,” she says. She’s constantly butting heads with her mother (Barbara Harris), a disciplinarian who constantly harps on her to clean her room, eat her vegetables, et al. When they have a particularly heated battle one morning, they wish they could switch places with each other for one day. It then becomes a be-careful-what-you-wish-for plot as mom underestimates the hardships of her tomboyish offspring and the teen does the same for her stay-at-home mom. They must endure a day in the life of the other person, leading up to a waterskiing climax.

The remake is more of the same, Freaky3this time with a rebellious 15-year-old gal (Lindsay Lohan), who crushes on a biker (Chad Michael Murray) and consistently finds herself in detention. Once again, she butts heads with her strict and overbearing mother (Jamie Lee Curtis), repeatedly accusing her of ruining her life. When the pair switches places, mom underestimates the hardships of her rock wannabe offspring and the teen does the same for her single mom. They must endure a day in the life of the other person, leading up to a climax with a battle of the bands and wedding rehearsal.

The laughs in the original are mostly action-oriented sight gags. As a teenager in an adult body Harris dances to rock music, blows bubble gum, puts on make-up, tries to do the laundry, drives, cooks, plays baseball, and waterskis. As an adult in a juvenile body Foster has an explosive experience in typing class, changes the tomboy’s look, and plays field hockey. The remake relies more heavily on dialogue-related moments. As a teenager in an adult body, Curtis does psychoanalysis, appears on a talk show, goes to a parent-teacher conference, and tells her fiancé she’s so glad they’re getting married even though it seems so soon after her previous husband died. As an adult in a teenage body, Lohan calls out a teacher, tries to befriend an enemy, and looks to convince her peers to never have physical contact with the opposite sex.

Though only teenagers at the time, Foster and Lohan appeared in enough roles to be considered veterans by Freaky Friday, and play their straight-laced adult-trapped-in-a-kid’s-body characters as such, delivering their comic lines with utmost seriousness. But, alas, the cute teens got the short end of the deal. Harris and Curtis landed the juicy roles, as both earned Golden Globe nominations. Since a tomboy occupies Harris’s character, her performance depends on physical activities (baseball, skateboard, falling, dancing). And while both do excellent jobs talking as adolescents, Curtis seems almost possessed.

For those viewers who insist on asking which one is better, I submit the following. The 1976 version has a made-for-TV feel to it (and the rear projection skiing recalls Fonzie jumping the shark), while the remake has a squeaky clean teenybopper feel to it. From the very beginning Lohan’s character is whiny and unsympathetic, and (along with her crush) is the kind of disillusioned youth that can appreciate Britney Spears and pseudo punk/emo music, but not The White Stripes. I found the teen’s story in the original far more empathetic, while the adult’s side of things is loads more interesting in the remake. While the original boasted a leading lady as housewife and smoker, the remake presents a strong female persona (widow, therapist, author, etc.). In one telling moment, she assures her patient, “you’re a strong, independent woman who doesn’t need a man to complete you” – a piece of advice so touching that a supermarket worker sheds tears.

The role of the father figures and race in each film is extremely interesting, to say the least. I felt bad for the fiancé (Mark Harmon) in the remake, who tries hard to reach out and take interest in the kids. The father in the original (John Astin, of The Addams Family fame) might be nailing his secretary and is kind of a sexist, who tells his spouse “You just show up looking beautiful, and I’ll do the rest” and “I do my job, you do yours,” and takes no interest in his daughter’s report card so long as she can waterski. I can’t quite say which ridiculous racial treatment is worse than the other. The remake counts on Asians to provide a magical fortune cookie for the duo to switch bodies. The original, meanwhile, has one ethnic character: a black man coming out of a store holding an upright bass.

Perhaps the most interesting element in the films, especially since they come from Disney, is the amount of sexuality (both implied and blatant). When the teen realizes she’s in her mother’s body in the original, she soon reaches up to feel her breasts. The remake is similar in that the adult reaches down to touch the teenage body’s butt. While not racy, it’s a fun and believable touch similar to Tom Hanks looking “downstairs” in Big. In both movies, the teenager uses her mother’s body to hit on their crushes for funny but awkward results. The original unfolds a potential Electra Complex (Oedipus’ female counterpart) as the teen says “mom and I haven’t been hitting it off well,” but her father is “all in all a fantastically cool person.” It makes for an especially creepy moment later on when, in her mother’s body, she calls him “daddy” and he displays an aroused grin. The remake tones those moments down as the teen fends off her replacement father’s advances.

While there are several boy-and-father  switcheroo movies, they never seemed to carry the wit and charm of those about mothers and their daughters. But it makes sense. After all, girlhood adolescence is marked by peaking hormones, physical changes, and mood swings, which all-too-often lead to screaming and cat fights. Or at least that’s what the movies reduce them to.


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