What a Girl Wants, The Lizzie McGuire Movie and now Freaky Friday ' it's beginning to look like Invasion of the Nubile Body Snatchers at the local multiplex. Girls for whom the Christina-versus-Britney debate is of vital national interest deserve to see themselves up there on the silver screen. And some of these movies, from Clueless to Bring It On, have managed to entertain us without insulting our intelligence. (And by "us" I'm referring to movie critics who are old enough to be these girls' much older brothers ' oh, all right, fathers.) Unfortunately, there are those other young-girl movies, the bubblegum-smacking pep rallies that use "Saved by the Bell" as a touchstone. These tend to hail from Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel, where life is one long meeting of the Mouseketeer Club.
I wasn't expecting much out of Freaky Friday. It's not only a Disney movie in the Love Bug mold, it's a remake of a Disney movie in the Love Bug mold. And if memory serves, Jodie Foster, while still clinging to her tomboy years, gave the definitive performance of a girl who, through some freaky voodoo shit, switches bodies with her mother, with the result that she has to walk a mile in mom's heels while mom walks a mile in her tennies. The original Freaky Friday wasn't very freaky, especially given what the country had just been through (remember Ho Chi Minh?), but Foster had 'tude to spare. And the movie's premise ' that mother and daughter have to stumble their way through each other's average day ' just wouldn't stop delivering. In fact, it kept on delivering in 1988's Vice Versa, where Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage put a father-son spin on things, and in 1995's ABC-TV version, with Shelley Long and Gaby Hoffman. Can you say "dÃjÃ vu all over again"?
I also wasn't expecting much out of Jamie Lee Curtis, who's never been one of my favorite actresses and, to my mind, wasn't much of a sex symbol, either. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when Curtis, as Dr. Tess Coleman, a woman with way too many balls in the air, grabs hold of Freaky Friday and refuses to let go. She's never been this weird, this bold, this damn funny. In fact, she's never been very funny at all, not even in A Fish Called Wanda, where the rest of the cast supplied all the laughs. What the hell's happened to her? Well, I'd say three things: 1) sobriety, 2) motherhood and 3) middle age. Especially middle age. With her Perfect body on the way out, if not quite altogether gone, she no longer has anything to lose. And that's exactly how she behaves in Freaky Friday, where she plays a prim and proper woman's body inhabited by a rebellious teenager's mind. "I'm old," Curtis shrieks, looking in the mirror. "I'm like the Cryptkeeper!" It's a great line coming from the former Scream Queen.
Halloween was nothing compared to what this mother-daughter team has to go through, each of them impersonating the other, but not always with a whole lot of enthusiasm. "Darling, could you, like, chill for a sec?" Curtis says to her fiancÃe (Mark Harmon), who tries to roll with the punches while gradually realizing this isn't the woman he agreed to marry. Meanwhile, young Anna, played by Lindsay Lohan, has to negotiate the rocky shoals of high school with her mom's thoughts rattling around inside her head. Having played Patty Duke-style twins in Disney's 1998 remake of The Parent Trap, Lohan knows how to do the split-focus thing, but she's also perhaps the best actress among the current crop of Hollywood Lolitas, smoothly shifting from comedy to drama when the script requires. Her scenes with Curtis are classics of generation-gap antagonism, several of them including wisecracks by Chad Michael Murray as Anna's kid brother, Jake. Precocious as hell, Murray's devilishly cute.
Director Mark Waters tapped deep reserves of weirdness in his independently funded The House of Yes, then lost his touch in the Hollywood-funded Head Over Heels. Here, he seems to have made his peace with the family values of mainstream comedy. Like its predecessors, Freaky Friday isn't very freaky, but it's made with a lot of skill, and I'll take skill over freaky any ol' day of the week. Waters has a way of cutting from a joke a split second before you expect him to, which is so much better than holding the shot until every last ounce of laughter has been wrung from it. And he must have a way with actors, given that everybody, from the leads on down, gets a rise out of us. Kudos to the casting director, who's put together a collection of funny-looking, funny-acting people, even for the tiniest roles. And kudos, once again, to Curtis, who, in turning her back on Botox, liposuction and other forms of plastic surgery, has discovered an inner child with a great sense of humor.