If only all fractious mother-daughter relationships could be resolved as easily as in Freaky Friday. Or as hilariously.
Remaking a flipped-personality movie from 1976 (which starred Barbara Harris and a young Jodie Foster), the film stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan as a squabbling mother-daughter combo who, through a dose of well-intentioned magic, awake one morning inhabiting each other's bodies. The results may be predictable. The horrified daughter looks at her new mid-40s body in the mirror and shrieks, "I look like the Crypt Keeper!" while the newly au courant mom is horrified by the trendy fashions she's expected to wear. But in the hands of a writer-director-stars team that knows and enjoys what it's doing, the result is a sure-footed comedy of manners, morals and misunderstandings.
Young Anna (Lohan) is what we like to think of as a fairly typical teen-ager: rebellious, opinionated, easily frustrated, assured of her own infallibility and utterly unable to think of anyone but herself. That last point is especially true when it comes to dealing with her mom, Tess (Curtis), a harried psychotherapist who mistakenly believes the same techniques that work on her patients will succeed with her daughter. Thus, her constant exhortations to "make good choices."
But then the big switcheroo takes place, and things get really weird. Tess, now stuck inside Anna's body, has to negotiate the pitfalls of high school and the attention of adolescent boys (which she, naturally, does not welcome AT ALL). Worst of all, she has to watch helplessly as Anna gives her (that is, Tess') body a complete makeover, complete with spiked hair, punked-up clothes, gaudy jewelry. And the horror doesn't stop there: Anna now has Tess' credit cards, I.D., fiance (everyone together now, EWWWW!) and therapy practice.
Of such things are parental nightmares made.
Rarely have an actress and role been better suited for each other than Curtis and Tess; long one of Hollywood's most gifted comic actresses, Curtis has too long labored in roles that she was never meant to play, ones that demanded she play either too serious or too ditsy. Not so here; as Anna in Tess' body, she's having the time of her career. Freaky Friday enables her to unleash the kid she's never stopped wanting to be. There's a glee to Curtis' Anna that's a delight to watch, a joy in being given license to act less-than-her-age that her fellow forty-somethings only dream of.
Lohan, who earlier got to do the split-personality thing in Disney's remake of The Parent Trap, delightfully holds her own. In fact, the great joy of this movie is watching how well Curtis and Lohan act like each other after the personality switch. With Tess inside Anna's body, Lohan adopts the purposeful walk and straight-on carriage of a harried career woman, while Curtis glides through her day with the carefree gait of a self-obsessed teen-ager who suddenly discovers she's not only let loose in a candy store, she owns it.
Director Mark Waters, working off a script by Heather Hach and Leslie Dixon, keeps the atmosphere light and gives both actresses plenty of room to shine.
True, the film lets Anna off a little too easily; it's Tess who's forced to make the bigger changes in her life, while Anna's shortcomings are just dismissed as the necessary growing pains of adolescence. But that's a minor complaint, and one that suggests there's a seriously analytical side to a Disney comedy about mothers and daughters switching places. Freaky Friday simply suggests the wisdom of walking a mile or so in another person's shoes, and offers plenty of honest, good-natured laughs in the process. That's something young and old can appreciate equally.
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Lindsay Lohan
Directed by Mark Waters
Rated PG (Mild language, thematic elements)
Released by Walt Disney Pictures
Time 93 minutes
Sun Score * * * 1/2