Film

Freaky Friday (2003)

Cynthia Fuchs

It's good to see Jamie Lee Curtis acting like a 15-year-old.


Freaky Friday

Director: Mark S. Waters
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Lindsay Lohan, Mark Harmon, Harold Gould, Chad Murray, Stephen Tobolowsky
MPAA rating: PG
Studio: Buena Vista Pictures
First date: 2003
US Release Date: 2003-08-06

It's good to see Jamie Lee Curtis acting like a 15-year-old. Always generous and witty, whether beating off Michael Meyers, double-crossing Kevin Kline, or stripping for Arnold, she alleviates, somewhat, the ordeal of watching yet another body-swap comedy (in a fair universe, Rob Schneider's last outing would have been a final blow). Though Freaky Friday doesn't pretend to be original (like the 1977 film starring Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster, it is based on the popular book by Mary Rodgers), it also doesn't offer much in the way of new insights into this most peculiar of subgenres.

Tess (Curtis) begins as a stereotypically overachieving single mom. She leaves the house each day with her PDA and cell phone already whirring as she hurriedly bye-byes her kids, aspiring rocker Anna (Lindsay Lohan) and vexatious little brother Harry (Ryan Malgarini). Something of a celebrity psychiatrist (she's written a bestseller with her picture on the cover), Tess is infinitely tolerant with her needy patients and adoring fiancé Ryan (Mark Harmon), but has less and less time for Anna. When Anna tries, however awkwardly, to voice her anxieties ("You're ruining my life!"), mom only waves her out the door: "Make good grades!"

This basic set-up takes too long, as the film details their disparate, daily travails: Tess argues with the caterer and Anna's harassed by her English teacher (Stephen Tobolowsky), who irrationally encourages her to study for the Honors Exam while failing her weekly papers. Tess schedules a root canal and Anna plays loud guitar with the band she's formed with her best friend Maddie (Christina Vidal). Not only does this band sound impossibly adept when they rehearse in Anna's garage, they also, by way of underlining mother-daughter conflict, have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play at the House of Blues... on the same night as Tess' rehearsal dinner.

All this leads to the body exchange, engineered by a character named only Pei Pei's mother (Lucille Soong); the put-upon Pei Pei (played by Rosalind Chao) runs a Chinese restaurant where the white folks feel comfortable enough to act out the most obnoxious family dramas. Her mother, tired of this spectacle, casts a mysterious fortune cookie spell on Anna and Tess, an event accompanied by "Oriental" soundtrack music and an earthquake effect. And so, once again, well heeled Caucasians who've lost touch with "traditional" values are serviced by the inscrutable local Others (or, as Anna observes, "It was some strange Asian voodoo").

As disconcerting as the trigger may be, the trade is surely welcome. Tess-as-Anna faces classroom questions on Hamlet, a Heather-ish classmate, and detention (she's quick to figure out that she can charge a makeover to her credit cards, emerging with a slightly less dated haircut and outfit (truth be told, she still looks corny); at the same time, Anna-as-Tess must grapple with her mother's uptight wardrobe, desperate patients, a surprise television talk show appearance, and the fact that she can't eat French fries. Not to mention her uncontrollable need to pull down Maddie's shirt to cover her navel.

As each begins to appreciate the diurnal difficulties of the other's life, the most complicated issue Tess and Anna face -- by far -- concerns their designated romantic interests. In the case of Anna-as-Tess, this means she's putting off Ryan's efforts to kiss and fondle his fiancée (indeed, the upcoming wedding, only two days away, creates much anxiety). Meanwhile, Tess-as-Anna is mostly annoyed by the attentions of motorcycle-riding, shaggy-haired high school heartthrob Jake (Chad Michael Murray).

So far, so cute. The situation is complicated exponentially when Anna-as-Tess spends some time with Jake, whereupon they realize their shared interests and tastes (He: "What do you think of the White Stripes?" She: "Get a bass player!"). Suddenly struck by a massive crush on Anna's supercool mother, Jake starts acting out, giving her a ride home on his bike and serenading her from the sidewalk. While Anna-as-Tess fumes that her mom is stealing her boyfriend, even the exceedingly patient Ryan starts to wonder what's going on.

Director Mark Waters' first film, the weird and energetic comedy The House of Yes (1997), offered what might be called a diametrically opposed view on family structures, that is, families are designed to destroy their offspring. In Freaky Friday, Tess and Anna learn practical lessons from their switch, perhaps most importantly, that each has her own set of pressures and does her well-intentioned best to cope with one crisis after another. Such understanding comes through bodily experience -- being looked at, spoken to, and apprehended by their friends, associates, and relatives. Thus, each must not only sympathize with the other, but must also renegotiate relationships with everyone else. So, Ryan expresses his appreciation of Anna to Ann-as-Tess, who in turn can express her generous wish for her mom's happiness.

This stems in part from the fortune cookies' "directive," that the bodies might be re-swapped only when Tess and Anna become wholly altruistic when it comes to one another: "Let's try to be selfless!" cries Tess-as-Anna, or maybe it's Anna-as-Tess. In fact, as this directive compresses the film's "moral lesson" into the shape of, well, a fortune cookie fortune, it also underlines the film's thematic contortions, necessary to accommodate the (apparently unkillable) body swap subgenre. The complication that the movie can't quite negotiate has to do with the ways that bodies shape experience and perception, but also compromise and even preclude connections, as all bodies become objects to be read, interpreted, and imposed upon. Mother and daughter come together only when they give up their belief that their own readings of the world are accurate. (Indeed, this very complication -- so dense and so provocative -- might explain the subgenre's stubborn longevity.)

At the same time, Freaky Friday is a kids' movie, and if it does nothing else in the world but provide Jamie Lee Curtis the opportunity to perform a Clipse rap on Jay Leno's show (which she did on 6 August), then it has done all the work it needs to do.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Music

How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.

Music

Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

Music

Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.