Freaky Friday: An infinitely rewatchable, toe-tapping hit

The beloved classic gets the musical treatment from the creative minds behind Broadway musicals If/Then and Next to Normal.

Starring Cozi Zuehlsdorff and Heidi Blickenstaff

The news that there’s been another adaptation of “Freaky Friday” is probably met with one reaction.

I mean, it’s understandable. Mary Rodgers’ 1972 novel had already been subject to three film adaptations: one in 1976 starring Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster; 1995’s version with Shelley Long and Gaby Hoffman; and the frankly iconic 2003 iteration with Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis, not to mention Chad Michael Murray in what is possibly his worst haircut, and dashing Mark Harmon as stepdad-to-be Ryan.

Unfortunately, it can’t really be claimed that 2003 is too recent for a film to be remade, considering that film came only 8 years after the previous one, and children born in 2003 are almost of legal age, which is beyond sobering. However, the brilliant thing about the premise of Freaky Friday is that it always taps into a massively universal concept, that most people will be able to relate to immediately: the tricky relationship between parent and child. What’s more: this new film of course has the distinction of actually being an adaptation of the musical stage version that debuted in 2016.

With infectious songs populating some of the familiar story beats, and fun new plot lines to enjoy, Freaky Friday is both new but reassuringly familiar in its premise. The characters remain the strong points throughout, as we explore the broken bond between mother and daughter Ellie (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) and Katherine (Heidi Blickenstaff), as Katherine prepares to remarry, even though Ellie still feels the scars of her father’s death.

These elements are massively familiar from previous versions. Disengaged Ellie is the complete opposite of what her mother Katherine wants and expects, which merely spurs Ellie on to be an even more drastic, rebellious version of herself, driven by perceived maternal rejection. Meanwhile, Katherine is beaten down by the pressure of maintaining the facade of a perfect life, while trying to promote her catering business and woefully uncertain of how to connect with her daughter.

Their relationship is further muddled when Ellie is desperate to take part in The Hunt, an annual scavenger hunt that takes place around the city, and this year run by her crush Adam (Ricky He), but which unfortunately falls on the same night as mother Katherine’s rehearsal dinner. Katherine, longing for everything to go swimmingly to ensure positive press for her business which is at a make-or-break point, refuses, leading to a massive confrontation between the two. While hanging onto an hourglass that Ellie’s father had given her, the pair find themselves in each other’s bodies, and with the hourglass now broken, they must find Katherine’s to help them swap back. Unfortunately, they have no idea where that is. Because Katherine sold it.

I’m sure your brains can fill in the rest. It’s not especially challenging or original, but the pair get themselves into massively awkward and hilarious situations in the body of the person they least understand. Both of them viewing the other’s life as easy, the two come to the sobering realisation that everybody has their struggles, even if you cannot see them. What’s more, all of these delightful moments are set to obnoxiously catchy tunes, such as Katherine’s battle with her daughter’s hormones in “Oh, Biology”.

Something that is achieved well within this film is more of a balance between the two parts. In previous adaptations, it has seemed more that there is a character who is in the “right”. In 2003’s Freaky Friday, for example, Jamie Lee Curtis is egregiously anally retentive and, despite her job as a therapist, is completely unaware and ignorant to any of the emotional baggage that wayward daughter Anna has. Anna’s rebellion is created in a way by overbearing parenting, and once her mother actually understands all of the stresses and pressures within her life, Anna manages to mellow somewhat.

Here, however, both of the characters are at fault in some way, and realise that they have treated the other wrongly. Katherine realises that she has been unaware of Ellie’s grief at the loss of her father, while Ellie hadn’t realised all of the difficulties and pressure that her mother was under at trying to start a business, and that her lack of parental attention wasn’t due to negligence. In that respect, both of the characters go on a meaningful journey of understanding the other.

Both parts of brilliantly played by Zuehlsdorff and Blickenstaff (who reprised her role from the stage musical). Not only do they play their own parts wonderfully, but they also manage to latch onto the characteristics of each other’s performances to convincingly play both mother and daughter, which is no mean feat. Zuehlsdorff in particular impresses, with her quiet, assured maturity as she plays Katherine, instead of falling back upon a lazy caricature.

Unfortunately, due to the conventions of adapting a 2 and a half hour stage musical into a Disney Channel film, some songs were left on the cutting room floor, which probably eliminates some of the emotional nuance of the source material. The original musical boasts an impressive 20 tracks, which has been limited to only 10 songs here, with two more included as bonus tracks on the album. However, all of the music is sublime, provided by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, who have previously worked on If/Then (nominated for a Tony) and Next to Normal (won the Tony for Best Original Score). It’s just a shame that more of it couldn’t have been filmed, for the benefit of those fans of the musical who are watching.

It’s hardly life changing viewing, but it’s full of heart and spirit. With characters you can root for, and an engaging and familiar premise, not to mention high quality, infectious songs and incredible performances, there’s simply no better way to spend a cosy evening curled up watching Freaky Friday. It’s one I’m going to return to “Today and Ev’ry Day” (it’s a song from the film, in case that reference is lost on you).

Freaky Friday is available to watch now on Disney+.

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