Among Walt Disney Productions’ most memorable live-action offerings of the ’70s, thanks to a novel concept and the presence of Jodie Foster in the leading role, Freaky Friday had a different genesis than the studio’s usual fare. Rather than being generated by in-house creatives, the movie was based on a novel by Mary Rodgers (the daughter of legendary composer Richard Rodgers), who also wrote the script. So, even though Freaky Friday follows the basic Disney paradigm of delivering a wholesome message through effects-driven comedy, it’s got a personal point of view.
That’s not to say, unfortunately, that the movie is particularly good, since the characters are trite and the comedy never really connects. Freaky Friday zips along nicely enough, and the performances are sufficiently enthusiastic, but the movie’s entertainment value falls somewhere between forgettable and tiresome. The simple story begins when tomboyish, underachieving 13-year-old Annabel (Foster) and her uptight housewife mom, Ellen (Barbara Harris) simultaneously wish they could trade places with each other. By some unexplained magic, the women’s souls transpose, so Annabel’s mind ends up inside her mother’s body, and vice versa.
At first, each is thrilled because of assumptions that the other lives a carefree existence, but then, as they will, high jinks ensue. Living inside an adult body but unaware how to deal with adult responsibilities, Annabel screws up chores like cooking and laundry. Meanwhile, Ellen can’t figure out how to make her teenaged body perform Annabel’s routine of schoolyard field hockey and extracurricular water-skiing. Ellen’s husband (John Astin) gets caught in the middle of the chaos, even as he’s trying to organize the splashy launch for a new real-estate development. It’s all quite harmless, with Annabel realizing what her mom juggles every day while Ellen learns that a lack of encouragement is keeping Annabel from fulfilling her potential.
However, the mild charms of the leading performances—Foster displays her famously precocious gravitas, while Harris works a groove of likeable silliness—get drowned out by elaborate sight gags, particularly during the laborious chase scene that climaxes the movie. Nonetheless, Freaky Friday was a decent-sized hit that earned three Golden Globe nominations. It also got the remake treatment a generation later. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan as mother and daughter, the 2003 version is infinitely superior to the original, opting for sweetly character-driven comedy instead of noisy slapstick.
Freaky Friday: FUNKY