The notes I took during “Freaky Friday” begin sarcastically and gradually become softer, and are thus an accurate depiction of my feelings toward the film. It is not a movie for me, a grown man; it is for mothers and their teenage daughters. Yet I ultimately found much to like about its sincerity and warmth, not to mention its agreeable central performances.
It commences like a typical not-for-grown-men comedy, along the lines of “What a Girl Wants” or “The Lizzie McGuire Movie,” following the hectic lives of the WASP-ish Coleman family of Los Angeles. The mother, Tess (Jamie Lee Curtis), a successful but harried psychologist, is getting married this weekend to a nice, understanding fellow named Ryan (Mark Harmon). Her 15-year-old daughter, Annabell (Lindsay Lohan), has the ups-and-downs normally associated with a person in her demographic group: friend trouble, boy trouble and mom trouble, all crammed into one day. I jotted, mockingly, “For poor Anna, it’s just one thing after another! Detention TWICE in one day!”
Tess and Annabell don’t get along, of course, and Annabell delivers the obligatory “you’re ruining my life” speech at least once. Neither appreciates the difficulty of the other’s life, Tess not having walked in a teenage girl’s shoes in a couple decades, and Annabell having no desire to know what it’s like being a grownup.
Then, while dining in a Chinese restaurant, they are approached by an inscrutible, possibly malevolent, old Chinese woman. She gives them fortune cookies with a weird message, and the next morning, they awaken to find themselves in each other’s bodies. (This old Chinese woman MUST be stopped, and her powers harnessed for good.)
This is the third time Disney has made this film, after the 1976 theatrical version starring Barbara Harris and a young Jodie Foster, and a 1995 made-for-TV incarnation with Shelley Long and Gaby Hoffmann, neither of whom has been heard from much since. The new version, directed by Mark S. Waters (“Head over Heels”), benefits from an updated script by Leslie Dixon (“Pay It Forward,” “Mrs. Doubtfire”) and Heather Hach. It seems to know what real life is like, and though it strains credibility with some of its coincidence-based plot developments — good thing the band performance is next door to the wedding rehearsal dinner! — it generally does an admirable job keeping things down to earth.
Key in this is Jamie Lee Curtis, a wonderfully charismatic and likable comic actress who is equally convincing as a 40-ish mom and as a 15-year-old girl trapped in her body. She seems to be having a marvelous time, and her enthusiasm is infectious. Her interaction with Lindsay Lohan (who already did a Disney remake once, starring in 1998’s “The Parent Trap”) is surprising: Their performances and the dialogue written for them are true-to-life and honest, which greatly increases its chances of being funny. Lohan is no slouch playing a repressed mom in a girl’s body, either.
There is additional comedy in Annabell’s obnoxious little brother Harry (Ryan Malgarini) and her doddering old grandfather (Harold Gould).
The point, of course, is that Tess and Annabell come to see things from each other’s point of view and to appreciate one another’s strengths. It’s hokey, yes, but the preview audience I saw it with was full of mothers and daughters who adored it. Their passion is hard to argue with, and despite the film’s oversimplification and occasional lapses of logic, one can’t help being charmed by its genuinely sweet, good-hearted approach.
B+ (1 hr., 32 min.; )