Foster's Harassed as Harris
Young Annabel Andrews (Jodie Foster - Bugsy Malone) is tired of her nagging mother, and her mother Ellen (Barbara Harris - Family Plot) is just as annoyed with her tomboy daughter who doesn't do anything she is supposed to. Each of them think the other has it easy, that is until one Friday morning when they magically trade places as they find themselves in each others body's and as the day progresses Annabel discovers that being a mum is not easy and Ellen learns that going to school is stressful. But with Mr. Andrews (John Astin - Move Over, Darling) having an important business presentation in the afternoon and both Ellen and Annabel involved, being in the wrong bodies could spell disaster.
Like romantic dramas about lovers from across the tracks, the body swap idea has been a regular occurrence over the course of movie history. I don't know what was the first movie which gave us two people who magically switched bodies but I do know that every few years a new one arrives, sometimes masquerading as something new whilst others being an obvious remake. But the thing about all these body swap movies and you could throw in ones where someone suddenly grows old or becomes young again, is that they are all very similar thriving on confusion comedy to make you laugh. And as such because they are all so similar it needs a standout performance to make it work and the 1976 Disney body swap movie "Freaky Friday" doesn't have one, it has two stand out performances in Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster. It's because both Harris and Foster are so good that this version of "Freaky Friday" is still us as much fun as it was all those years ago.
Now let's get one thing in the open about "Freaky Friday", it doesn't know the meaning of the word subtle and it's not like it ever did because the humour is as forced and obvious watching it now as it was when I first watched it at the tail end of the 70s. But in many ways this is exactly what you expected from the Disney studio during the 70s, innocent humour with plenty of slapstick drawn out to the point that if it was made today it would border on being painful.
So with that point out of the way "Freaky Friday" is really just a generic body swap comedy where by some unexplained moment of magical madness mother and daughter swap bodies for the day. But it is what they get up to during that day which makes this 1976 version of "Freaky Friday" so much fun as we watch Ellen learning that her daughter's life is a lot harder than she thought whilst Annabel learns that being a mother is not so simple either. As such we watch Ellen in Annabel's body causes chaos in typing class and gets trampled over during a Hockey match whilst Annabel in Ellen's body causes the washing machine to spurt foam everywhere whilst cremating a Turkey. And there is much more as it all builds to the big finale of a water skiing event and a crazy car chase through the storm drains. Plus it means the outcome, one of mutual respect after being at each others throats is expected.
But the thing about "Freaky Friday" is not so much what happens, which is so good, but the way it is acted by Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster. Now whilst only 14 Jodie Foster was very much a veteran of the industry and had appeared in some major movies prior to this and so it is little surprise to say Foster delivers a very good, confident performance. Yet Foster is outshone by Barbara Harris who delivers the fun of being an adult possessed by a child, from her carefree attitude to the facial expression it is Harris who delivers scene after scene of brilliant comedy. It's because of this as well as the various supporting performances that this 1976 version of "Freaky Friday" works so well as without these memorable comedy performances it would be just another body swap movie.
What this all boils down to is that "Freaky Friday" is just like so many other body swap movies with a plethora of gags about a child being in an adults body and vice versa. But what makes it stand out from the crowd are the performances especially from Barbara Harris who embraces the wackiness of playing an adult with a child like attitude with such fervour that she delivers one big laugh after another, making the jokes much more than they really are.