Freaky Friday
review by Gregory Avery, 8 August 2003

 "Ew! I'm old! I look like the Crypt-Keeper!" exclaims Jamie Lee Curtis as the mother who has just exchanged personalities with her daughter in Freaky Friday, an updated remake of one of the more well-regarded Disney films of the Seventies. But, honestly, would ANYBODY say that Jamie Lee Curtis looked like the Crypt-Keeper in that dodo TV series? Even in jest?

The earlier film was graced with performances by Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster in the leads. Here, Curtis plays the mother, Tess, a psychiatrist and, for the moment, single mother, who normally has to do around ten things at once during the course of a normal day. Lindsay Lohan, who initially has the tortured look of Avril Lavigne (something which eases up as the movie progresses), plays her teenaged daughter, Anna, having to contend with school, boys, an impossible younger brother, rehearsing with her rock band so they can get into a contest at the House of Blues, and -- the final indignity -- losing the door to her room as a punitive measure. As in the earlier film, mother and daughter say the other wouldn't last a day if they changed places.

And one's initial elation at seeing Jamie Lee Curtis in a comedy once again is soon deflated when the realization sets in that the movie is going to be short on inspiration and that it's going to keep repeating the same, small set of ideas over and over -- Lohan, when she's Tess-as-Anna, acts with high-minded rectitude in scene after scene, while Curtis, in Anna-as-Tess mode, wags her head gawkily and says "Ew!" several more times. It's not as if the movie does nothing, but, rather, you'd like it to do more with what it's got. You wait to see Tess-as-Anna witheringly deflate the dilettantish teacher (Stephen Tobolowsky, who's perfect) in Anna's English class, who enjoys flunking students for spite and gives pop quiz questions such as, "Describe the character of Hamlet."; there's also the reaction of Jake (Chad Michael Murray), a boy Anna had been earlier trying to impress, when he sees Tess-as-Anna sabotage the test paper submitted by a classmate who humiliated her -- he's disturbed, even offended, by what he sees her do, which makes you realize that he's looking for a girl who respects the same things as he does, but the movie walks away from this and never comes back to it. Similarly, Anna-as-Tess treating her mother's patients for a day holds a potential that isn't even remotely explored. And why does the movie suddenly turn creepy when Jake starts flirting with Tess-as-Anna? He's supposed to be responding, of course, to Anna, behind Tess' eyes, but it feels, inadvertently I hope, more like a Benjamin-and-Mrs. Robinson type of thing.  And when Tess helps Anna out at the big band performance, the filmmakers don't even give us a good shot of Jamie Lee Curtis playing electric guitar, like she means it, off-stage (they apparently filmed some, but it never made it into the final film). And not much is made of Mom about to be married to a new man, meaning a new father in the family (even though he is played by Mark Harmon, whose easygoing performance is one of the best things in the picture). While there are many moments where Curtis and Lohan work splendidly together, parts of the picture, alternately, could have been handled more delicately, or more assuredly.

Mark Waters has previously directed an ambitious and rather daring independent comedy about another type of family, The House of Yes, which is worth having a look at; whether this new movie is a step in the right direction, I don't know. And what is the great moral lesson that Tess and Anna come away with after their experience? They're glad to be back in their own bodies, the end.

Directed by:
Mark Waters

Starring:
Jamie Lee Curtis
Lindsay Lohan
Chad Michael Murray
Ryan Malgarini
Stephen Tobolowsky
Harold Gould 
Mark Harmon

Written by:
Heather Hach 
Leslie Dixon

Rated:
PG - Parental
Guidance Suggested.
Some material may
not be appropriate 
for children.

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