Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 1, 2022)
While 1977’s Freaky Friday didn't pioneer the "body swap" genre, it popularized it and remains a touchstone. But does it hold up 45 years later?
13-year-old Annabel Andrews (Foster) lives with her mother Ellen (Barbara Harris) and irritating younger brother Ben (Sparky Marcus). Both Anna and Ellen bicker over the usual parent/daughter issues and they think that the other one has it easy.
One afternoon, both muse about the superiority of the others’ lives and at the same time, they utter “I wish I could switch places with her for just one day”. Magically, this occurs, as they suddenly swap bodies.
The film follows their dual paths as we watch them deal with the challenges that accompany this perplexing change. After the initial shock, they still indicate that they can handle matters, so they try to go about business as usual. Various complications ensue as they come to terms with different challenges and learn a little in the process.
“Body swap” movies predate Freaky Friday, but I think the modern-day examples of this genre owe their existence to it. The film did well at the box office and showed its influence when we got an explosion of these flicks in the 1980s.
I’d love to say that Friday acts as one of the genre’s best, but unfortunately, it doesn’t hold up well over the years. Not only do spiritual siblings like 1988’s Big better it, but also Friday’s 2003 remake offers a superior version.
A substantially superior version, in fact, though since I’ve not seen the 2003 take in about a decade, I can’t directly compare the two. To be honest, I barely remember the Jamie Lee Curtis/Lindsay Lohan edition. However, I recall enough to know that I enjoyed it and thought it provided a good take on the topic.
The 2003 Friday was pretty bright and funny, and it attempted to create its own internal logic. None of those positives accompany the wholly, consistently, relentlessly mediocre 1977 version.
Truthfully, the story exists as nothing more than a long collection of comedic beats. It seems to think it’ll succeed based solely on its wacky premise, so it does little to deliver much more beyond its general concept. The movie hopes we’ll be so delighted by its nutty notions that we won’t notice how little else it has going for itself.
Perhaps we might not care if we got better lead performances. While I think Harris and Foster are decent in their roles, they can’t elevate their underwritten parts.
Of the two, Foster does the best, as she manages to play an adult in a reasonable manner. She relies on a few too many stodgy mannerisms, but she does fine.
On the other hand, Harris tends to overdo the teenage girl. Rather than play a natural kid, Harris turns her into a moronic dope. This seems too over the top to create real comedy.
I do think the movie would work better if it attempted more of a story. Unlike the remake, the 1977 Friday never attempts to tell us how the body swap happens.
The characters accept it virtually immediately and never question it, which seems weird. They just act like it’s no big deal, and I guess we’re supposed to follow suit, but it’d be nice to have some clue about the cause of the switch. Didn’t the filmmakers think anyone might wonder about this?
I suspect they didn’t really care. As a movie for youngsters, Freaky Friday works fine; I was nine when it hit screens and enjoyed it. Unfortunately, unlike the better “kiddie flicks”, Friday won’t do much for anyone other than the little ones.