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Freaky Friday

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Freaky Friday

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Lindsay Lohan
Director: Mark Waters
Rated: PG
RunTime: 101 Minutes
Release Date: August 2003
Genres: Comedy, Kids, Family

*Also starring: Harold Gould, Janet Choi, Chad Murray, Mark Harmon, Cayden Boyd, Michael Lohan, Danny Rubin, Julie Gonzalo, Ryan Malgarini

Review by Harvey Karten
3½ stars out of 4

Overheard during a voir dire in the jury room: D.A. "Are you capable of giving this case your unprejudiced verdict?" Prospective juror: "No, sir. Until you're in another man's shoes, you're in no position to judge him." The defense lawyer wanted this guy, but no surprise: he was rejected. While other people make impressions on us, favorable or not, we cannot really (rhymes with Gigli) know how another feels unless we're in that person's shoes. This sounds like an impossible feat, that is until Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster changed places in Gary Nelson's movie 1977 movie "Freaky Friday" to gain more insight in a day than would be possible in years. Then, a 12-year-old came along in Penny Marshall's movie "Big" to find out what it's really like to be 30.

The theme is fascinating: no wonder Mark S. Waters is able to capitalize on the notion in this updating of the 1977 film of the same name, this time using Lindsay Lohan where Jodie Foster tread 36 years ago and Jamie Lee Curtis as the hapless mother, substituting for Barbara Harris of times past. Who would have guessed that a PG story without winks and hidden messages for the older folks in the audience would be a perfect vehicle for putting across one of life's most important lessons--while simultaneously being the most entertaining Hollywood comedy so far this year?

Credit for this achievement must go to Heather Hach and Leslie Dixon, whose screenplay is sharp and punchy, to Mark Waters, directing against type (his "House of Yes" was a black comedy dealing in part with the JFK assassination), and to the wonderful chemistry between Jamie Lee Curtis as comic virtuoso and the beautiful Lindsay Lohan as the teenager she learns to get along with.

"Freaky Friday" begins with a premise that no one can argue with: even people with similar genetic makeups have different agendas. Casting aside the absent parents who don't give much of a fig what their kids are doing, the typical American mom is conservative, too often demanding that her child does things that mother might like but which are anathema to the youngster. The young 'uns for their part are repeatedly testing to see what they can get away with, secretly hoping at times to be paid attention to and scolded when they know they've gone beyond the limits.

Dr. Tess Coleman (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her 15-year-old daughter, Annabell, do not get along, in part because the teen does not accept the man her mom is going to marry three years after the death of her dad. Tess proves that psychoanalysts can make pretty bad mothers, repeatedly blaming her teenaged daughter for fights actually started by the girl's kid brother (Ryan Malgarini). When an elderly proprietor of a Chinese restaurant witnesses the friction, she employs voodoo-like, fortune-cookie magic. Mother and daughter wake up the next morning with exchanged bodies, but not minds, so that each could literally see and feel the other person's point of view. They cannot change back until each has demonstrated selflessness toward the other.

The comedy, which moves at a brisk pace with only a few minutes of obligatory sentimentality at the conclusion, puts Tess and young Anna in situations that are stressful. They have no idea how to comport themselves while trying to fool others into thinking the newly-matured Anna is now her mom while the now-youthful Tess is a rebellious teen. Nonetheless in some ways each acts according to authentic feelings. Anna-in-Tess's- body gets her hair cut short, her ears pierced, and replaces sensible shoes with boots. Tess-in-Anna's-body puts her hair modestly up and talks to her school friends as though she were their adult adviser.

During the changes, mom understands the truth: that her daughter's insistence she's being picked on by her English teacher (Stephen Tobolowsky) is correct and that rock music need not be just noise. (It helps that the songs belted out in the soundtrack are intelligible and exciting.) Daughter realizes that her mom's desire to marry again is perfectly natural.

While we get advice that pop psychologists give us in books magazine columns, and talk shows, information of that nature has a way of bypassing our subconscious. In other words, in one ear and out the other. But put the other person's shoes on and then some, namely, actually become the other person in body but not in mind, and you'll see how experience is the best if not the only real teacher.

While the movie is too wholesome to merit status as an instant classic, this version is hipper than the 1977 pic, the actors have a ball trying out new roles, and parents who take their kids may not get to understand them better (after all, they're not exchanging bodies) but they'll be thoroughly entertained.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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