Judge Jesse Ataide wonders what it would be like to trade bodies with Jodie Foster for a day.
Our review of Freaky Friday (2003), published January 13th, 2004, is also available.
"I wish I could switch places with her…for just one day!"
There's nothing worse than a little shattered nostalgia.
As a kid, I remember going with my two sisters to the video store and sifting through the brightly-colored rows of Disney films before selecting, with painstaking care, the movie that would provide that evening's entertainment. Never mind that we had watched most of them several times before—would it be Candleshoe or The Three Lives of Thomasina that night? Old Yeller or Bedknobs and Broomsticks? Or perhaps The Love Bug or Escape from Witch Mountain for the tenth time? The possibilities seemed endless, but one thing could always be counted on: we adored them all unconditionally (besides Candleshoe, which for some reason never captivated my sisters the same way it did me).
Now, as jaded teenagers and young adults, we're known on occasion during school vacations to pull out our battered VHS copy of the irresistible The Parent Trap (1961), and guiltily savor our all-time favorite childhood film. I was hoping Freaky Friday would prove to be the same kind of guilty pleasure.
Annabel Andrews (a young Jodie Foster, Contact) is an awkward, messy, and slightly rebellious girl just entering her teenage years. Despite being the star of the school field hockey team, she's self-conscious about her full set of braces and flat-chested figure, and envies the perfect poise and unshakable cheerfulness of her immaculately coifed mother Ellen (Barbara Harris, Family Plot). After their daily before-school argument, both happen to utter a wish to switch places with the other to show the other "what it's really like," and voila! (via an incredibly dated camera trick), Annabel and Ellen instantaneously find their interior selves transplanted into the other's body. For the rest of that fated Friday, Ellen is forced to endure typing tests, peer pressure, the nasty girls on the rival hockey team during the big game, and (believe it or not) perform as the main attraction of the water-skiing team's aquatic exhibition. Annabel, in the meantime, quickly finds that pressing dress shirts, cooking gourmet hors d'oeuvres and dealing with a temperamental housekeeper isn't nearly as effortless as she had assumed.
As should be expected, comedic situations inevitably arise. Initially the pratfalls are amusing, but something unexpected quickly becomes apparent: once you're past the age of about ten years old, Freaky Friday simply isn't funny anymore. The elaborate gags are painfully obvious in their setup, and just as obvious in execution; too often they are drawn out well past any hope of a laugh. This is particularly true of the film's climax, which somehow manages to demolish several cop cars, and find Ellen clutching a parasail and jumping through flaming hoops in water skis, yet still be completely unfunny. You almost have to experience it to believe it.
Unfortunately, the dated qualities that are rather charming in other live-action Disney films from this era comes off here as, well, dated—and I mean that in a bad way. Most dated of all is the film's views on gender roles. Comment after comment uttered by the father character (played by John Astin, probably most famous today for being Sean's dad) constantly voices his expectation that his wife only take interest in her domestic duties, and even refers to her as a sex object ("wear that slinky black dress you have, will ya?") to help woo a client. Of course it is unlikely that these gender stereotypes will register with a young audience, but any parents in attendance will most likely wince at such sentiments, and recoil at their frequency.
What Freaky Friday does have going for it is its two lead actors, neither of whom are performing in top form, but who manage to be extremely entertaining nonetheless. Ever since watching her delightful, off-beat performance as the resilient Albuquerque in Robert Altman's masterpiece Nashville, I've been a huge fan of Barbara Harris's quirky comedic talent. Freaky Friday is at its best when it steps back and simply lets Harris perform uninhibited. Foster is also quite good, though (as Foster herself admits in the interview provided as an extra on this disc) this was an extremely awkward time in her life, both physically and as an actress, which shows at times.
At the very least, Disney does its typical bang-up job with this film's widescreen transfer. The image is crisp and pristine—perhaps too pristine, considering how downright ugly the visual style looks. The audio track is likewise excellent, though I haven't quite figured out what, exactly, surround sound adds to the aural experience. Additionally, a French language track is provided, as well as Spanish subtitles and English captions for the hearing impaired.
Two extras are included on this disc. "A Look Back With Jodie Foster" is an interview with the film's star, who grew up to be a two-time Academy Award winner and one of the most lauded actresses of her generation. Considering that she discusses such issues as the "symbiotic relationship" of Annabel and Ellen and recounts stories from her days on the Disney lot, I can only guess that this feature is geared more towards parents and nostalgists than the kiddies. On the other hand, the interactive memory game is obviously meant for the film's youthful target audience.
When it comes down to it, young children will probably be just as delighted with Freaky Friday as they have been since its release over 25 years ago. Everybody else…watch at your own risk. Personally, I'd recommend checking out the 2003 remake instead.
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