I am one who believes that a good film can be made very, very good by a single moment of spectacular excellence, a standout, blow-'em-away scene, maybe just two minutes long, that grabs you by the balls / heart and exudes some sort of sheer magic. Great films, I mean, truly majestic films (a club whose members you could count on your fingers) play at this level all the time, and I haven't seen one of those in half a decade. So we settle, well enough, for the shining, gilded tips that we can sometimes find in sturdy, self-sufficient films. These moments aren't great by themselves; take them out of their element and they're near worthless. No, these moments are great because the movie did the footwork in bringing you there, in setting up the big fall, the miles of development that gives that moment it's striking power. In The Usual Suspects you had Verbal Kint's revelation. In Requiem For a Dream, the climaxing montage of wrecked and debased humanity. And in Freaky Friday, in a measure of less gravity and only slightly less potency, we have too-uptight-for-her-own-good, conservative, forty-something Jamie Lee Curtis rocking out some killer power chords on an electric guitar. It's a moment of sheer unadulterated glee, of complete Dadaistic, fearless, uncynical and unfettered freedom that pretty much can exist only in the pre-slated innocence and silliness of a Disney film (which is probably their greatest under-appreciated asset). It is a moment of catharsis, of really breaking free, and where the movie comes full circle in its inner-child liberating mission.
Let me explain. What we have, for the bulk of its 90 minutes, is a film that sometimes (and only lightly) sermonizes about understanding, but is mostly about cutting loose and having fun. The formula's a winner. The real danger of the setup - typically dysfunctional family sans father figure, overbearing mother, rebellious teenage daughter - is that once you give them a unique chance to reconcile and identify with each other, after some initial hi-jinks, we go down some treacly, familiar road that's more pushy than good for you. Thankfully, that all takes a backseat to really exploring the sort of fun you can have when you've got a capable director and some really fine actresses to play around with. This lets all the pieces fall into place for that aforementioned climax.
Jamie Lee Curtis jumps right into her role and comes off charming and amusing as the back-talking, slang spouting teenager trapped in her mom's body. There's no doubt she's having a good time, but put any other aging actress with a prudish complex in her place (these are in no low stock), let her go wild, and I guarantee that you'll get pretty much the same result, which isn't a bad thing, really. On the other hand, I'm starting to think that Lindsay Lohan is the real deal. Before I watched Mean Girls and Freaky Friday, I really couldn't see what the big deal was, but now I'm believing that she really deserves her big star push. I mean, she wouldn't be able to carry a dry melodrama about accountants with a fondness for Neiztche, but she can certainly polish roles befitting of her to a damned spit-shine. I suppose I give her more credit because it's a much grander feat for a 15-year old to play a 45-year old than vice versa, but moreso I think she brings just the right flavor, oscillating between appalled, disciplinarian harumphs and vulnerable, sometimes happy realization of truths. It's the second part, the letting her hair down, erasing that prim guard, and partying like a middle-aged woman trapped in a teenager's body learning to be young all over again only could, that really buoys the whole movie. And when we see her eyes well up with tears and her heart teetering on edge as she tells her daughter, Anna, in her mother's body, to put her relationship with her fiancé on the line in a moment of self-sacrifice, that is when we realize that this whirlwind of absurdity has suddenly shut down into an honestly touching moment, and Lohan pulls it off flawlessly.
Though for all this, the tradeoff is that Freaky Friday requires you to suspend a whole lot of disbelief, not for the completely sudden and unexplained body switching idea, but for the ways through which mother and daughter are able to hold a day in each others' lives together. From unpassably lousy psychiatry and driving to waltzing through a teacher's lounge to cheat on a test, the film is full of near impossibilities that you have to accept our plucky heroines have the gumption and luck to pull off. The most annoying of all these is Anna's teenage crush, Jake, who, at the drop of a hat, does the following: takes nagging interest in daughter, falls in love with mother, completely disassociates with daughter, stalks mother, falls out of love with mother and back in love with daughter. Though for the overall lightening fast, aimed-for-children pacing of the film, some of these are necessary shortcuts that can be forgiven under sheer winsomeness. If you're taking the film that seriously, anyway, you've completely missed the point. A plodding drama with prim respect to plausibility and minor character development is exactly the sort of stuffy fare that this vehicle of pixish momentum is made to make you forget.