Freaky Friday, based on a 1972 young people’s book by Mary Rodgers (daughter of Richard) and previously adapted in 1976, could truly be called a sitcom. The situation—a mother-daughter mind-body switcheroo—is as enduringly appealing as it is absurd, and the comedy flows therefrom: Assorted behavioral dissonances (and particularly a young lad’s crush on the daughter-inhabited mother) ring changes on family, communication, and some offshoots of the Electra complex. Mark Waters’s update has spirited turns by Lindsay Lohan as streaky-haired, multiply pierced high-schooler Anna Coleman (a mystifying change from “Annabel Andrews”) and Jamie Lee Curtis as her cell-phone-juggling therapist-author-mother, Tess. Aside from some cosmetic tweaks (unruly Anna is an integral member of a garage band instead of a waterskiing troupe—though isn’t waterskiing actually more fun?), the biggest alteration is in the family dynamic: In Gary Nelson’s 1976 version (with Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris in the daughter-mother, or is that mother-daughter, roles), the “very cool” father turns out to be an insufferable male chauvinist as a husband. Here the paterfamilias has passed away, and Mom is on the verge of getting married to a nice man (Mark Harmon) whom Anna nonetheless hasn’t fully embraced. Structurally, too, this new film inverts its predecessor, bringing mother and daughter together at various points in their topsy-turvy day, rather than enforcing their separation.
In the 1976 version, the distaff transfer happens out of a clear blue sky, when Foster and Harris simultaneously utter the wish that the other could see what it was like to be in her shoes. In our enlightened 2003, let’s blame it on the foreigners. Anna and Tess bicker at a Chinese restaurant, the House of Chiang, at which point the proprietress’s crafty mother (Lucille Soong) gives them each a magic fortune cookie. The feuding females read their identical messages; the next morning, they wake up in each other’s bodies, and the ostensible fun begins.
Tracing the source of their dilemma, Tess (that is, JLC) wonders what the woman was saying to them in Chinese as she gave them the fortune cookies. Anna (that is, Lohan) replies, “It was some strange Asian voodoo.” This is some strange racist bullshit, from the people who brought us Mulan and other extremely multicultural cash cows. Blame Freaky screenwriters Heather Hach and Leslie Dixon for the yellow-peril fantasies, and instead curl up with Rodgers’s novel and its sequel, A Billion for Boris, which remain eminently enjoyable today, with a distinct kid’s-eye view of New York City missing from both its suburbanized film incarnations. In the meantime, I am working on a script in which I switch places with a white Hollywood hack, who then has to review my movie.
This parallel Ed Park, known as Parker Edwards, proceeds to insert this button-pushing witticism in his review, by way of transition: “Speaking of gratuitous racism, here’s a joke: What do they call The Princess Bride in Japan? That’s right: The Princess Blade.” A modern-dress rendition of a Japanese revenge tale involving the House of Takemikazuchi, a legendary assassins’ dynasty, The Princess Blade has the antiseptic, obliquely radiant, incipiently violent look of a car commercial from 10 minutes in the future. Video game designer Shinsuke Sato’s minimalist dystopia is set perpetually an hour before dusk. Swordswoman Yuki (Yumiko Shaku) discovers that her mercenary cohort in fact murdered her mother long ago, and finds assistance and fleeting connection with a gentle hit man (Hideaki Ito) who takes care of his mute sister. Yuki’s streamlined revenge story (the furious, elegant choreography is by HK maestro Donnie Yen) has in its modest dimensions a surprising grace.