On the surface, Freaky Friday has all the signs of being awful -- horrible trailer, atrocious poster (Jamie Lee Curtis dressed like a middle-aged Avril Lavigne), and the presence of Mark Harmon. I don't mean to disparage Harmon, whom I actually think is a solid, reliable actor. It's just that since the late 1980s, the moviegoing public has inexplicably and repeatedly rejected him like snobby prom queens.
Plus, it's a Disney live-action movie. Need I say more?
So, imagine my surprise, when I walked out of the multiplex with a bounce in my step and a smile on my face. Freaky Friday, is disarming, charming fun. And it features two terrific performances -- one from 17-year-old beauty Lindsay Lohan and the other from Curtis, who hasn't had a chance to let loose in years. And I don't mean in a True Lies kind of way, fellas.
For anyone who saw the 1976 Jodie Foster original, Freaky Friday essentially tells the same story with a few contemporary wrinkles thrown in. A bickering mother (Curtis) and daughter (Lohan) magically switch bodies for a day and see how each other live. Curtis has to deal with the perils of a bully, a vindictive teacher, and a potential boyfriend. Lohan has to juggle a successful career, plan a wedding, and run an array of errands. It's like Face/Off without the excessive violence and the doves.
The movie's success depends on the work of Lohan and Curtis, who have to make broad characters in a goofy premise likable. Lohan, who starred in the 1998 remake of The Parent Trap, makes you forget Jodie Foster. Her fussy mannerisms (pulling down her friend's midriff-exposing shirt) and formal speaking tone are perfect for the role; she doesn't overplay it. There's something almost disturbingly natural in her grown-up performance, as if she actually switched souls with an unwitting adult.
Curtis gets all the fun stuff -- crowd surfing, making faces, playing guitar. But what's refreshing is that she looks like she's having a ball. It's been ages since Curtis made a comedy, and it's easy to forget what a carefree presence she was in great stuff like Trading Places and A Fish Called Wanda. And that's the key in Freaky Friday -- she lets herself go with utter and total conviction. Her courtship with Lohan's love interest (Chad Murray) is a highlight, straddling the line between true love and Jerry Springer. You understand when Curtis has to awkwardly rush out of their intimate coffee talk, but more than understand her look of utter bliss when she rides on his motorcycle.
The supporting performances are also solid, especially Harmon (as Curtis' fiancée), who provides a much-needed touch of class. A heap of credit must be given to director Mark S. Waters and screenwriters Leslie Dixon (Mrs. Doubtfire) and Heather Hach. They keep the sentiment and physical comedy down to an effective minimum while maintaining a sense of frantic fun throughout.
However, for every painful cliché they avoid (two attractive female leads in a comedy and nary a pratfall), there's one the trio treasures like comedy gold. In this case, it's the presence of the doddering senior citizen (veteran actor Harold Gould), the sweet girl who's secretly malicious, and the employees of a Chinese restaurant who act like the distant relatives of Mickey Rooney's character in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
All of those flaws are minor. The most important thing during my viewing of Freaky Friday is that the sneak preview audience, which consisted of adults and kids, applauded at the end. If that isn't an endorsement for this movie, I don't know what is.
Minimal DVD extras include a deleted scene (one!), a couple of alternate endings, and a gag reel. Still, this is one family film that doesn't need much more! The new special edition DVD adds a commentary track to the mix
You heard the one about Jamie Lee Curtis? Now that's freaky!