Sunday, April 20, 2014

Freaky Friday


Plans are proceeding for my grand and glorious gubernatorial 'tap off' at the Shrine auditorium, here in lovely Los Angeles. I can see public debate of weighty political issues as entertainment spectacle becoming the wave of the future. No more dried up old men in leatherette chairs on a tired news show set. Instead, klieg lights, sequined brocade, Busby Berkeley camera moves and a little leg. Who knows? Maybe someday a state might even elect a pro wrestler to the governorship. The candidates are starting to reply. Gary Coleman's people called and asked if it were OK if he wore a specially constructed pair of elevator tap shoes for his deficit reduction routine, set to a jaunty jazz rendition of California, Here I Come. 

While Joseph, my manager, works on the logistical details of the world's first political tap dance exhibition, Madame Rose, my publicist, is doing her best to keep my face and political platform ('Tap Into Change') in front of the California voters. I have public appearances in Fresno, Merced and Visalia later in the week. She thinks I have a very good chance of locking up the farm vote over the issue of water rights. I'm to give my speech in a tasteful bathing costume while floating in a specially prepared portable pool. I'm going to ask Esther Williams, my dear friend, to come with me. Perhaps she can do a little exhibition diving as punctuation to highlight the more salient points of my address. 

Tommy, my new Jungian therapist, thought I was getting just a tad stressed with all the political campaigning and ordered me away from Chateau Maine for the afternoon. He suggested a film, so off we went to a Westwood Cineplex where I wanted something that showcased the lifestyle of the modern California family. I need to do a little research so I can connect with the voters. We found what I was looking for in the new Disney film, Freaky Friday with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan. California living, family values, and, of course, a happy ending. 

Freaky Friday is the third film version of Mary Rodgers' novel for children of the same name. The first version, from 1976, starred the young Jodie Foster as the teen who switches bodies with her mother (Barbara Harris) and there was a 1995 television version with Shelley Long and Gaby Hoffman as the mother and daughter. This time the central parts are essayed by Jamie Lee Curtis as forty something therapist, Tess Coleman and Lindsay Lohan as her fifteen year old daughter, Anna. The plot is rather elementary. Tess has a stressful and regimented life as a widowed mother of two children, successful psychotherapist, and fiancĂ©e of the delectable Ryan (Mark Harmon). As she tries to plan her wedding, discipline her children and manage her time with the help of innumerable PDAs and cell phones, she envies the freedom of her teenage daughter. Anna, for her part, is going through the stresses of adolescence - a teacher (Stephen Tobolowsky) who's out to get her, the class bully, the stress of tests, and the cute guy Jake (Chad Michael Murray) whom she really likes but doesn't seem to notice her. One day, after an argument, there's a bit of Chinese restaurant fortune cookie magic that leads to mother and daughter switching bodies - a situation that can't be reversed until they walk the proverbial mile in each other's shoes and come to understand each other better. 

The meat of the film comes from seeing these two talented actresses act completely age inappropriate in various situations as they go through the titular Friday, a day filled with more incident than a month in most people's lives. Mom, in daughter's body, learns to remember just how unfair high school can be and that calm and maturity aren't always the best ways to handle those incidents. She also learns to appreciate daughter's musical talents when she ends up on stage at 'The House of Blues' as part of a rock band audition. Daughter, in mom's body, falls for the cute boy completely, redoes mom's look, and learns that the complicated life of adults isn't so easy as they make it appear to their children. 

Jamie Lee Curtis has by far the showiest part in the film and gives it her all and ends up with the performance of her career. Her Tess, when inhabited by a teen soul, is free-wheeling and relaxed. Whether she's horrified by how old she is ("I'm the crypt keeper!" she shouts at the mirror in one memorable moment), or getting a television studio audience to do the wave so she can go crowd surfing, she's all energy and captures the rhythms and body language of the young with gusto. Her deliriously goofy smile while riding on the back of a motorcycle is worth the price of admission alone. Lindsay Lohan, trying to be prim and proper and mature, does a good job but she's nowhere near as entertaining to watch. There's a deft supporting cast surrounding the leads, including Harold Gould as a somewhat dippy grandfather and Mark Harmon, aging quite nicely, as the man who would be husband and father. I also enjoyed Rosalind Chao and Lucille Soong as the Chinese mother and daughter whose fortune cookies set the plot in motion. In a cute homage to the original film Marc McClure, who played Boris, Jodie Foster's love interest in the original feature, shows up as Boris, the delivery man. 

The part of Tess was originally offered to Jodie Foster, as the producers thought it would be fun to offer that sort of continuity to fans of the original film. Miss Foster wisely turned it down, recognizing that such stunt casting would likely overshadow the merits of the film. The part was then cast with Annette Benning, who dropped out just days before the film was to begin shooting. Jamie Lee Curtis was a last minute replacement. It was a fortuitous accident. Miss Benning is a lovely actress but I have a hard time seeing her being as loosely comic as Miss Curtis and the balance of the film would likely have been wrong. 

The story has been updated by screenwriters Heather Hach and Leslie Dixon to reflect the roles of women and mother daughter dynamics in this new century. While the accoutrements of modern life are all there, they don't overshadow the human connection that underlies the story and the film remains firmly about character, rather than about objects or situations. Director Mark Waters, whose previous credits include the good (The House of Yes) and the bad (the Freddy Prinze Jr. vehicle Head Over Heels) keeps things moving along at a nice clip and, when things get maudlin in the third act, doesn't linger on the sappiness too long. 

There's a whole sub-genre of body switching films including such rotten titles as Eighteen Again and Vice Versa. This one, however, joins the better representatives of the type such as the Steve Martin/Lily Tomlin classic, All of Me. By all means go, and take the kids. You'll both enjoy it. 

Guitar T-shirt ripping. Guitar T-shirt magically restored. Brassiere wearing children. Underwear on head. Needy patient. Incoherent patient. Wailing patient. Gratuitous Christina Vidal. Test erasing. Motorcycle riding. Gratuitous talk show host. Kiss avoidance. Bad serenade. Stuffy rehearsal dinner. Jamming guitar solo.

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