USA 2003 : Mark WATERS : 96 mins
“If we were all suddenly somebody else, ” wrote James Joyce in Ulysses – and it ’s likely that the revered Irish author, who was often partial to skilful comic entertainment, would have thoroughly enjoyed the latest cinematic variation on the old ‘Vice Versa ’ theme. Loosely adapting Mary Rodgers ’ novel – in which a magic spell sees a mother and her teenage daughter exchange identities for a day – screenwriters Leslie Dixon and Heather Hach provide a solid framework for actors Jamie Lee Curtis and Linday Lohan, who proceed to sock over two terrific performances in the central roles of psychotherapist Tess Coleman and high-schooler Anna.
Crucially, both are equally convincing at ‘impersonating ’ the other – and do so while at the same time managing the tricky mechanics of farce. In this they ’re aided by director Waters, who keeps things nipping along at a jaunty clip – and doesn ’t linger too long on the more stereotypically ‘Disney ’ aspects of this Walt Disney Pictures production such as the therapy-speak ‘message ’ about expressing “selfless love. ” That said, the presence of Anna ’s annoyingly precocious kid brother (Ryan Malgarini) and his ‘charmingly ’ dotty Grandpa (Harold Gould) grates, but they ’re mostly relegated to the background along with the bland ‘love-interest ’ – Tess ’s fiancee Ryan (Mark Harmon) and Anna ’s current crush, the nice-but-cool Jake (Chad Michael Murray).
Waters knows that Curtis and Lohan are his trump cards, and he keeps them front-and-centre throughout. Although (remarkably) a last-minute, two-days ’-notice replacement for Annette Benning, Curtis turns out to be clever casting as Tess – the films she made as a rangy youth like Halloween and The Fog are still widely watched today, and it ’s a pleasure to see this often very physically taut actress relax into both an acting style and a physical rhythm both quite different from that of either her current or younger big-screen selves.
What would have been ever neater, of course, is if the 1976 Disney film of Rodger ’s book – which starred Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster – could have instead featured Curtis and her real-life mother, Janet Leigh.
As it is, perhaps we ’ll just have to wait another 27 years for Lohan to step into Tess ’s shoes for real: on this evidence you wouldn ’t bet against a long career for relative newcomer Lohan. If, that is, she can avoid getting herself mixed up in the public ’s mind with another of 2003 ’s breakthrough stars, Matchstick Men ’s Alison Lohman.
Perhaps inevitably, however, most of the critical plaudits have gone to Curtis – there ’s even talk of a first-ever Oscar nomination, and at the very least she must be one of two strong favourites (alongside Something ’s Gotta Give ’s Diane Keaton) for the Best Musical/Comedy Actress award at the Golden Globes. The star has been in dire need of a hit for some years now, and Freaky Friday ’s unexpectedly strong ($100m+) US box-office performance has put her career right back on track.
The film ’s success means also means that we can probably expect a slew of inferior body-swap comedies, given Hollywood ’s bred-in-the-bone penchant for bandwagon jumping. But this needn ’t be too depressing a prospect – if , that is, somebody has the nerve to dust off the legendary (and still unfilmed) script One Saliva Bubble by David Lynch and Mark Frost. Described (correctly) by no less an eminence than Steven Soderbergh as “incredibly funny ”, One Saliva Bubble takes the high-concept a stage further: everybody suddenly becomes somebody else. Joyce would most definitely approve of that one.
15th December, 2003
(seen Wednesday 10th December : UGC Cinema, Nottingham)
by Neil Young