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Dustin Putman

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Freaky Friday (2003)
3 Stars

Directed by Mark S. Waters
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Lindsay Lohan, Mark Harmon, Ryan Malgarini, Harold Gould, Chad Murray, Christina Vidal, Haley Hudson, Stephen Tobolowsky, Rosalind Chao, Julie Gonzalo, Willie Garson, Michael Lohan, Lucille Soong.
2003 – 101 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (for mild thematic elements and some language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 19, 2003.

Walt Disney Pictures, a studio infamous for relying on adaptations and remakes over original thought, does it again with "Freaky Friday," a present-day redux of 1976's body-switching Barbara Harris-Jodie Foster comedy. However, under the helm of director Mark S. Waters (2001's "Head Over Heels") and screenwriters Heather Hach and Leslie Dixon (2000's "Pay It Forward"), this is one of Disney's brightest and most winning live-action efforts in some time, a definite step up from 1998's long-winded and inferior remake of "The Parent Trap." The movie is not only the most consistently funny of the year, but it is wise, in its own way, and actually has something truthful to say about parental and sibling relationships.

Tess (Jamie Lee Curtis) and 15-year-old Anna Coleman (Lindsay Lohan) are a bickering mother and daughter who can't seem to see eye-to-eye on anything. While Tess is receiving no support for her impending marriage to the patient Ryan (Mark Harmon), Anna is frustrated that her mother doesn't understand her school life or support her aspirations as a musician. With the help of a nosey Asian waitress (Lucille Soong) and two magical fortune cookies from the night before, Tess and Anna are horrified to wake up on Friday morning stuck in each other's bodies. Suspecting the phenomenon may have something to do with the Chinese restaurant they ate at, but with no idea how to reverse the spell, Tess and Anna have no choice but to go through the day living the other person's life. It doesn't help that it is also the day of Tess' wedding rehearsal and Anna's band competition at the House of Blues.

While the basic plot outline of "Freaky Friday" is easily predicted, with Anna and Tess discovering how difficult the other person's life is and learning to understand each other, the ways in which it is handled is intelligent and sometimes even surprising. Anna's English teacher (Stephen Tobolowsky), for example, is constantly giving her F's for no reason, something Tess blames on her daughter until she must sit in on the class herself (in Anna's body) and finds that the teacher is giving her low scores for no good reason. Meanwhile, Anna (in Tess' body) discovers—much to her surprise—that her bratty little brother, Harry (Ryan Malgarini), is always in her hair because he actually looks up to her. "Freaky Friday" may be just a family comedy, but director Mark S. Waters has the courage and talent to turn things serious, even while avoiding corny, melodramatic sentimentality.

Lest it seem like the movie doesn't know how to have any fun, there are more genuine laughs in any fifteen-minute section of "Freaky Friday" than in the whole of "Johnny English." When Anna must sit in on an interview about Tess' new book on psychology, despite having no idea what it is about, the sticky situation escalates into sheer hilarity. Meanwhile, Anna's crush, a motorcycle-driving classmate named Jake (Chad Murray), is surprised to see his hobbies and tastes connecting more closely with Tess (who is really Anna on the inside). The implications of a possible teen-adult romance within a Disney picture might have gotten pretty uncomfortable in the wrong hands, but it remains innocent, soft-spoken, and charming.

In literally one of the best roles she has ever played, Jamie Lee Curtis (2002's "Halloween: Resurrection") is sheer dynamite, proving what a criminally underrated and untapped resource she often is as an actor. Curtis is poignant as the put-upon Tess, and hilariously dead-on in her portrayal of the teenage Anna. Obviously having a ball with such a meaty part and a marvelous comic talent, to boot, Curtis has given one of the standout performances of the year. In the reverse role of moody Anna who is thrown into Tess' body, Lindsay Lohan (star of "The Parent Trap" remake) is nearly as strong, realistic in her scenes as Anna and scarily accurate at playing the adult Tess. Speaking of a recently untapped resource, it is great to see Mark Harmon (1998's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas") in such a high-profile role, even if his part as Tess' fiancé leaves him mostly unchallenged.

Aside from the unnecessary feelings that go along with remakes, in general, it is hard to complain about much of anything in "Freaky Friday." The film is fast-paced, its comedy never once drags, and its drama is more subtle and believable than one usually expects from a PG-rated family flick. At its core is the relationship between Tess and Anna, brought beautifully to life by Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan. When, at the end, they look at each other and smile, it really feels like a mother and daughter have bonded—not only by blood, but by a keen understanding of who the other person is, inside and out. "Freaky Friday" is warm-hearted without being treacly, and a comic delight without delving into cloying theatrics. It also happens to be one of the summer's most refreshing cinematic delights.
© 2003 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman