Hitting the nail on the head of mother-daughter relationships -- and doing so with amusing savvy and imaginative good humor -- Disney's "Freaky Friday" remake is such a sublimely fun-for-all matinee delight that it cleansed my palate of the sour taste of every bad movie I've seen this summer.
Yes, it's a live-action Disney family movie -- which has traditionally been enough to send shudders down the spine of anyone over the age of 11. But director Mark S. Waters ("Head Over Heels") eschews the studio's history of pandering triteness in favor of sharp writing, credibly clever characters and terrific performances.
Magnetic Linsday Lohan (whose charm also carried the studio's 1998 "Parent Trap" remake) and a revitalized Jamie Lee Curtis couldn't be more ideally cast as exasperated teenager Annabell Colman and her harried, head-shrinker mom Tess, both of whom are given new insights into their contentious relationship when their bodies are swapped through a fortune-cookie hex.
Natural, witty and droll in their own bodies for the movie's first act, the actresses take recognizable archetypes and turn them into unique personalities as they each deal with a litany of daily hassles the other just doesn't understand.
Alluring, fashionably semi-punk Annabell (blonde streaks in her red hair, sporty tiny-T shirts, army fatigues and Chuck Taylors) has a literature teacher who's out to get her, a detention lady she knows so well that they swap lunches, a catty popular girl biting her back and a cute boy named Jake (Chad Michael Murray) over whom she swoons from afar -- all of which her mother takes too seriously or not seriously enough for Annabell's tastes.
But Tess (conservative blue suit, no-nonsense haircut) is constantly dealing with her own stressors like neurotically clingy patients, plans for her impending wedding (to frustrated but tolerant stepdad-to-be Mark Harmon) and a purse full of persistently ringing cell phones, beepers and Palm Pilots -- all of which Annabell pooh-poohs as the pathetic trappings of adulthood.
The vitality and personality that Lohan and Curtis bring to this pair would be enough to carry any good family comedy by themselves, but of course it's more important how well they play each other when the time comes, and the answer is -- perfectly.
From the moment Tess wakes up in Annabell's skin and examines her self in shock (and screaming in horror at the discovery of a belly-button ring), Lohan's attitude and body language become 100-percent authentic adult -- from the way she pats her obnoxious little brother on the head (arousing much suspicion) to the way she absent-mindedly tries to tuck in the midriff-baring top of a teenage girlfriend.
Giving what is easily her most inspired performance since "A Fish Called Wanda," Curtis almost steals the whole movie in embracing her (literal) inner teenager. She recoils from Harmon's kisses and her 40-year-old reflection ("I'm like the Crypt Keeper!"). She sits in "her mom's" office chair with her legs cocked playfully outward at the knees (doodling in boredom while listening to patients' problems). She gives herself a Betsey Johnson makeover (complete with a funkier haircut and a new piercing or two).
Her bubbly, dreamy-eyed nervousness around Jake when dropping "Annabell" off at school is hilarious. But her confusion and skin-crawling "ewww!"-ishness when he starts putting the moves on her later -- realizing the guy thinks he's coming on to her "cool" mom -- is even funnier.
It's the ongoing interaction between Lohan (as mother) and Curtis (as daughter), however, that shows just how studied these two performances are, as Annabell and Tess first try to reverse their body-swap (by slamming into each other) before realizing that with a day full of college entrance exams and rehearsal dinners ahead of them, there's no way they can avoid taking on each other's lives for the time being.
A vast improvement over the 1976 "Freaky Friday" starring Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris (which was itself a couple notches better than the insipidly juvenile fare that Disney cranked out at the time), the movie does have a few overwrought plot points:
Annabell's being a guitarist in a rock band is a transparent machination used to set up a scheduling conflict between the wedding rehearsal and the band's potential "big break" audition in the last act. It's even more transparently a gimmick to sell soundtrack albums (Lohan has Britney ambitions and the group's "garage" sound is conspicuously polished).
The picture's zany concept is also given a little too much rope in the Jake subplot (although the fact that Jake himself is a eye-rolling cliché of a hip, soulful teenage boy is one of the movie's most subtle jokes) and in a scene that finds Curtis as Annabell on TV promoting Tess's new self-help book.
But the performances more than make up for the flick's few shortcomings. Even the bratty little brother (Ryan Malgarini) shows signs of originality. "You know," he says to Harmon by way of blackmail, "this new dad thing could be hard or easy..."
I know the trailers and TV commercials for this movie have been wince-inducingly awful, but don't pay them any mind. "Freaky Friday" is great.
Run time: 97 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 6th August 2003
Box Office USA: $110.2M
Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures
Production compaines: Walt Disney Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Fresh: 130 Rotten: 18
IMDB: 6.1 / 10
Director: Mark S. Waters
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis as Tess Coleman, Lindsay Lohan as Anna Coleman, Mark Harmon as Ryan, Harold Gould as Grandpa, Haley Hudson as Peg, Chad Michael Murray as Jake, Dina Waters as Dottie Robertson
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