Freaky Friday (2003): directed by Mark Waters; written by Heather Hach and Leslie Dixon
Freaky Friday is hardly a maligned film. It had a solid box-office presence, earned a globe nod and managed good to great critiques from the critical populace. Yet, retrospectively, the film seems to have fallen into this rut of lesser important fare not, pleasantly trifling but not especially worthy of remembrance. This is a shame because even as Freaky Friday seems to (and the key word is, of course, seems) to emerge as a typical teenage comedy romp its humour (and its drama) is firmly rooted in such provocative thematic issues it’s a shame we don’t see more like it. When I reviewed Pixar’s Brave a few weeks ago, I mentioned how the deus ex machina contrivance of a mother and daughter forced to love each other after a spell gone awry reminded me so much of this 2003 flick. It’s not the deus ex machina, principally, though but the focus on the generation gap at work between a mother and a rebellious daughter which tie the two films together and which makes Freaky Friday such a significant film of the aughts.
Perhaps the execution itself sounds conventional. With 90 minutes at their disposal Hach and Disposal set up the status quo and what they want accomplished by the end of the runtime with alacrity. Both mother and daughter will endure mishaps making them cognisant of the wrongness of the preconceived notions, their own ingenious will turn the mishap into a success and ultimately peace shall be restored. Where the film supersedes expectations is not just in the how these plot-points are established but in the other shades added to the scenario. A heartfelt toast at a dinner engagement rehearsal though almost guilty of the penchant for protagonists to reveal their feelings through tears at key moments isn’t presented with a key awareness of the characters’ idiosyncrasies as well as the melancholy with growing up and realising just how human your parents are.
I’ve not seen the 90s flick House of Yes, but looking over the rest of his oeuvre Mark Waters has made three terrible films (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Head Over Hells), two fair ones (Just Like Heaven, The Spiderwick Chronicles, one very good film (this) and one great film (Mean Girls). Even in his bad things, Waters’ highest credit is his ability to make scenes go down easy. Visually, Freaky Friday might not be one of the most innovative family films of the last decade but its ability to be self aware yet zippy is an insurmountable credit. Waters makes a dead parent, a potentially odd romance between a fifty year old and a teenager, and parental resentment unfold effortlessly. This is not to be confused with a director intent on making things palatable to the point of being devoid of pain, but it is evidence of a director firmly in control of tone. Even when it touches on those dramatic moments with startling honesty the humour is still mixed up in it (next to the aforementioned toast, the best emotional moment is tied up in a scene of comedic gold where the mother in her daughter’s body must play at a rock concert making way for daughter in mother’s body to save the day – essentially, Jamie Lee Curtis being luminous).
And, that inextricable link between humour and drama? That’s on the goodness of the actors. Like all body switching scenarios a great chance is offered to Lohan and Curtis to play in each other’s sensibilities. Lohan is tasked with more of the straight man antics and if she comes off (but barely) as a bit too pragmatic it’s only because she is playing someone pragmatic. And, of course, she’s never actually been an adult so she’s playing “big” in a theoretical way whereas Jamie Lee Curtis is so obviously relishing the chance to play young not in theory but as an extension and resurrection of her own former child. What’s best about the performances is that the two are best opposite each other. It’s an imperative thing because amidst more standard fare like peer pressure and romances the mother/daughter dynamic must be the buttress on which it all rests and it is simply because the two work so well together. Of course the way the film is skewed towards them and their performances means that the secondary characters emerge as especially secondary but it’s not so much a flaw as it is a minor inconvenience.
Grade: B (13 year old me might say B+)