Where most ’tweener-targeting comedies stumble and condescend, Freaky Friday is a delightful surprise. Through solid acting, careful pacing and strong writing, it never does that, simply because it’s not a meticulously handled shot at one demographic.
Already the second remake of the 1976 film based on a book, the story was old hat even in 1987, when it seemed like there was a body-switching movie every other week. But the energy from stars Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis, the latter with her best role in a decade, makes it fresh. Those who’ve seen The House of Yes might not guess that Mark Waters might make sense as the director of a Disney film, but at least it’s a vast improvement over his big-studio breakthrough, Head Over Heels. It also helps that co-writer Leslie Dixon brings the same peppy step to this as she did to her work on Mrs. Doubtfire a decade ago.
Tess Coleman (Curtis) is juggling her psychiatry career, raising kids and her pending second marriage to Ryan (the impeccably dressed Mark Harmon). Her 15-year-old daughter Anna (Lohan) is battling an English teacher and a childhood-friend-turned-bully who legitimately have it in for her, trying to catch a break with her band Pink Slip and crushing hard on heartthrob Jake (Chad Michael Murray).
Each is really too busy to see the concerns of the other, and several lash-outs culminate in one at a Chinese restaurant on the eve of the rehearsal dinner. After some scarily effective fortune cookies, mother and daughter wake the next morning in the other’s respective body. To switch back, they must make true the fortune’s talk of selfless love.
Despite the supernatural set-up and farcical, physical humor, Freaky Friday has a keen eye for how its characters would realistically react in their relationships given the situation. There is more honesty and decency to motorcycle-riding Jake than it would seem (not to mention that he knows the White Stripes need a bass player).
And although Harmon has great moments where he responds to the on-screen chaos, Ryan is no mere reactionary buffoon. His reasons for loving Tess and her family are legitimate and convincingly spelled out in a climactic scene.
Even Lohan and Curtis connect, their confrontations never seeming like shrill yell-fests and each bringing some practical nuances to their arguments.
These work to effectively set up the film’s more emotional moments that ring with truth, not treacle. But the movie is, quite simply, a lot of fun, thanks especially to Curtis who cuts loose here with her most surprising performance since True Lies. Watching her add “punk,” “dude” and “whatever” to her vocabulary and carry herself with the devil-may-care attitude is a delicious riot.
Although she does have some moments, Lohan’s performance isn’t as consistent, and it does end with Lohan making her bid to not be left behind Hilary Duff and Amanda Bynes in the “I can sing and dance, too” race. But overall, this movie that could have been a collection of shopworn clichés instead boasts madcap zing, believable characters, some nifty twists and genuine heart.