Native Americans have a saying, "If you want to understand my world, walk a mile in my moccasins." Although never quoted directly, this proverb provides the foundation for Freaky Friday—with a twist. Take two very different people. Have them not only swap footgear, but trade entire bodies. Watch the sparks fly … then the empathy … and eventually the bonding.
Dr. Tess Coleman is a workaholic, psychiatrist who's just days away from her wedding (her first husband died years earlier). Her somewhat wild and flamboyant (teenage) daughter, Anna, is a guitarist/vocalist for a garage rock band called Pink Slip (think Avril Lavigne meets No Doubt). The group has been given a big break—a chance to perform at the House of Blues. However, Pink Slip’s time slot coincides with Mom's rehearsal dinner. Big problem! Although deep down, Tess and Anna care for each other, both are so absorbed in their own little worlds that compromise and reason are out of the question. So they argue, take relational shortcuts and have all but canceled genuine communication. It’s easier for Tess to remove Anna’s bedroom door as a punishment than talk to her. It’s easier for Anna to shut out Tess’ fiancé than to get to know him.
Enter the owner of a Chinese restaurant who overhears mother and daughter bickering. She employs a bit of magic—via fortune cookies—that initiates a body swap at the stroke of midnight. Of course, after waking the next morning, Tess and Anna are both appalled by their transformation. Anna is anguished over being "old." Tess stresses about how Anna (in her body) is going to handle her patients. Both worry about how to change back.
At first, empathy is overshadowed by selfishness. Anna "treats" her mother’s body to a new haircut and wardrobe compliments of Mom's credit cards. Tess, in Anna’s body, tries to mend a rift with a rival, unconcerned about possible social consequences. While predictable, there are lots of laughs as the pair navigate—and eventually learn about—each other’s ups and downs, life and loves.
positive elements: When any individual takes the time to walk in someone else's shoes, growing closer is inevitable. In Freaky Friday, it’s not a deliberate decision—it just happens. But the results are positive as the mother-daughter battling eventually evolves into mother-daughter appreciation. It’s expected. But still sweet and tender. When Tess’ fiancé, Ryan, believes he is entering not only a marriage, but a relationship that involves an entire family (with a future step-daughter who is less than thrilled about it) he’s admirably willing to call it off.
spiritual content: Anna refers to her mother’s outfit as "cute ... if you’re selling Bibles!" The implication is, obviously, that Bible sellers (and readers?) are socially inept. The fortune cookie-powered body swap is said to work because of "Asian voodoo." Tess is briefly featured in a yoga pose, meditating while doing her nails.
sexual content: In Tess’ body (with a rear camera angle), Anna is seen pulling up her pants over thong underwear. Tess, in her daughter’s body, briefly grabs her breasts and backside when she discovers the body swap, declaring, "That’s not mine—these are definitely not mine!" (A similar scene takes place toward the movie’s end.) In Tess’ body, Anna listens to a patient worrying that her daughter may be "doing it" (fortunately, it’s a concern!). Anna (in Tess' body) autographs a fan’s derrière. Following the body swap, high school heartthrob Jake inexplicably begins to neglect Anna (who is really Tess now) in favor of spending time with her mom (who is now Anna). He's clueless about the swap, so watching Mom's body riding around on the back of his motorcycle while hugging him endearingly raises the cringe factor a bit. Taunting her, Anna’s little brother wraps one of her bras around his clothed chest. Anna retaliates by pulling a pair of underwear over his head. Several women wear low-cut dresses. On a more positive note, Tess rebukes Anna for dressing like "a little harlot."
violent content: Distracted while driving, Tess has a minor wreck that deploys an airbag. Anna deliberately decks a rival teammate while serving a volleyball. Tess (in Anna's body) knocks a guy into a tree to silence a serenade. Tess' fiancé verbally (although not seriously) threatens Grandpa ("Don’t make me hurt you").
crude or profane language: God’s name is misused a handful of times. For Anna, a lot of things are said to "suck," while other coarse phrases and profanities pop up only occasionally ("We’re screwed!," "I’m gonna barf," "h---").
drug and alcohol content: The rehearsal dinner features an open bar and it’s assumed adults consume as part of the festivities. But drinking is not showcased or glamorized.
other negative elements: Tess allows Anna to talk back to her—sometimes while yelling. While it allows viewers to understand their degree of separation, it’s unnerving. Harry disrespectfully refers to his grandfather as an "old fart" and teases him about being scared of a perceived-as-real earthquake. Anna and Jake agree that the Hives are "awesome." (This is a band that in real life isn’t squeaky clean. Lyrics include, "I got a greeting, can’t say what it’s all about, but my middle finger is gonna carry it out.") Anna declares, "I hate teachers." In some instances, lies are told rather than divulge the body swap (e.g., Anna says she’s been looking for an earring when she’s actually been chatting with Jake). Inside Anna’s body, Tess discovers her daughter has had her belly button pierced without permission.
conclusion: Trading bodies is not a new concept to Hollywood. Besides the original Freaky Friday (1976), films such as 18 Again, Like Father Like Son and Prelude to a Kiss have all gone there. Therefore, most viewers will have the plot nailed within the first 10 minutes: Mother and daughter are growing apart. Abracadabra. Switcheroo. Then they realize the error of their ways. Switch back. Instant bonding. But it’s neither suspense nor surprise that make this film work. It’s observing how a 15-year-old girl suddenly transformed into an adult professional on the brink of matrimony handles 24 hours of motherhood. And likewise, it’s watching a fortysomething psychiatrist/writer instantly become a rock guitarist (albeit without the talent) and re-handle a day of high school. It's cheesy, but it works. And while there are a few content molehills, there are no mountains.
What Freaky Friday delivers is a wealth of after-the-movie discussion items without wading through things that often trip up teen films (strong sexuality, nudity, gratuitous violence, vulgarity, etc.). For instance: "Since no one can really swap bodies, how can people—especially of different generations—empathize and ultimately better understand each other’s differences?" Even the caveats are worth dialoging about. "Is there power in fortune cookies/voodoo? Or is this just Hollywood?" I would also suggest some discourse about appropriate means of expressing frustration within a family without resorting to the Tess-Anna way. Sharing shelf space with The Princess Diaries and What a Girl Wants, Freaky Friday isn’t Oscar material or brilliant filmmaking, but it’s funny, generally clean and pro-family.