Review: “Freaky Friday”

You know for a concept as well-worn as the old ‘body switching’ trick, it still works surprisingly well to this day. 1977’s “Freak Friday” was not only some of Jodie Foster’s early work on display, but was also one of the last great Disney live-action comedy caper movies which included such cinematic gems as “Blackbeard’s Ghost”, “That Darn Cat”, “The Shaggy Dog”, “Bedknobs & Broomsticks” and of course “Mary Poppins”.

Its central idea of an arguing close couple (in this case a mother & daughter) whose minds suddenly end up in the other person’s body has been used and reused in one way or another over the past few decades whether it be Tom Hanks goofing off in “Big” to Guy Pearce prancing it up in “Dating the Enemy”. Also, recent attempts to remake some of the older Disney 60’s & 70’s comedies into modern day variations haven’t exactly been ringing endorsements (most notably the woeful “That Darn Cat” remake). Going back to the fountain for another drink doesn’t sound like a good idea.

Yet this contemporary update on ‘Friday’ proves both surprisingly good and different enough that it never betrays the original but also stands very much alone as a separate entity from it. Writers Heather Hach and Leslie Dixon borrow the original’s central idea, but otherwise change things around quite dramatically to not only give it a more contemporary feel but adjust the tone away from action caper towards more comedic scenarios which under director Mark Waters steady hand, flow quite naturally and in believable directions.

Waters skilfully avoids the waters of high farce and over the top slapstick, instead giving us family-friendly and yet hip humour with a light-hearted playful sense of fun. Gags which you’d suspect to be obvious actually take fresh and interesting directions, whilst the solid production values rely purely on the performances and writing to carry it through rather than silly gags or effects (the body-swap scenes for example are totally FX-less).

The solid writing & directing would be for nought if it wasn’t for the performances at the front and center – and boy does the cast deliver. Curtis looks to be having an utter ball, living it up as a rebellious teen in a woman’s body. The actress has always proven quite skilled at comedy, and this is no exception as she gives us her best work since 94’s “True Lies” and pokes fun at herself whilst really getting into some of the physical stuff.

Lohan gives it a great go and makes far more of an impression with this role than the likes of the over-rated Amanda Bynes & princess Hilary Duff in their respective early efforts. Most of the supporting roles are the straight foils to our wacky female leads, though spunk Chad Michael Murray proves a better than usual love interest and even gets to play up a bit in a ‘crush’ subplot late on in the movie. Consequently the likes of Harmon are left with little to do.

Downsides wise there’s not many short of the central idea being dated. Whilst it manages to wring some good laughs out of the material, there’s nothing particularly new here and despite its fun performances its appeal won’t heavily crossover into more male-oriented or older brackets. The change of a simple wish trick to an almost racist stereotype ‘fortune cookie’ element is odd, likewise the pace does drag in the middle as the urgency factor about upcoming events (an audition and a wedding) isn’t played up as well as it should be.

This is a family comedy designed for young girls predominantly and whilst its a far better effort than some of the more recent attempts in the genre (ala “What a Girl Wants” and “The Lizzie McGuire Movie”), its not a great comedy or memorable by any means. Rather its a simple guilty pleasure – a light-hearted and fun picture, and one of the few recent remakes which actually works.