Reviews

Freaky Friday (2003)

Cynthia Fuchs

Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan bring an appealing mutual affection to the remake of Freaky Friday.


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 DVD Release Date: 2003-12-16

"I don't really know why I became an actress. It's just something I like to do." How nice for Lindsay Lohan, speaking in a documentary for the DVD of Freaky Friday and currently being touted (by Disney anyway, mad at Hillary Duff) as the next best young actress since, oh, I don't know, Jamie Lee Curtis. Fortunately, their teaming is gratifying, and they bring an appealing mutual affection for their remake project, underlined in their many "fun" scenes, in the film and on the set.

In fact, Curtis makes a brilliant 15-year-old, and Lohan a convincing uptight suburban mom. 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.

Curtis plays Tess, 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 (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 overly attentive fiancé Ryan (Mark Harmon), but, much to her daughter's dismay, has less and less time for Anna. When she tries awkwardly to articulate her concerns ("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. And if Freaky Friday does nothing else but 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.

And so, it's not especially disappointing -- except for kids, maybe -- that the DVD doesn't come with many extras. It includes a 30-second-long deleted scene (described by Waters as "breaking the flow, so I decided to cut it"), and three "alternative" endings for the film, all involving Grandpa Harry (Harold Gould) opening a fortune cookie, that is, all essentially the same ending as the one released theatrically.

Best, if too brief, is the sort-of making-of featurette, "Backstage Pass with Lindsay Lohan," is, appropriately, a kids' view of how movies get made -- makeup trailers, cameras in view on set, boom mics in frame, split screens, and lots of laughter with what Lohan calls "the awesome crew." Though it opens with producer Andrew Gunn's joking assertion that, "a year from now," Lohan will be such a big star that she won't be returning phone calls to those who "knew her when," the documentary suggests otherwise. This despite the fact that, as Waters puts it, "she's destroying on this movie."

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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