MOVIE REVIEW: Freaky Friday (Disney Channel, 2018)

written by David Steffen

I’d venture to guess that most people are at least familiar with the premise of Freaky Friday from one of its incarnations or another.  In each of the Freaky Friday movies, a mother and a daughter underestimate the challenge of the other’s life until they magically switch bodies for a day and have to deal with the other’s challenges firsthand.  The first Freaky Friday movie was released in 1976, starring Barbara Harris as the mother and Jodie Foster as the daughter.  The second Freaky Friday movie was released in 2003, starring Jamie Lee Curtis as the mother and Lindsay Lohan as the daughter.  A new Freaky Friday movie came out in 2018, starring Heidi Blickenstaff as the mother, and Cozi Zuehlsdorff as the daughter.  The movie are linked only by the premise and the title, having no other continuity between them.  Unlike the previous films, this one is a musical, and a premiere directly on the Disney Channel.

Katherine Blake (Heidi Blickenstaff) is a single mother of a 16-year old girl Ellie (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) and younger boy Fletcher (Jason Maybaum).  Katherine runs a professional catering company, and is looking forward to (but also anxious about) the boost in business in her upcoming featured story about her catering her own wedding, and she just doesn’t understand why Ellie can’t clean up her room, wear nicer clothes, do her hair nicer.  Ellie, conversely, just wants to be herself and thinks her mother is too uptight and domineering over everything she does.  She is determined to join her friends on “the hunt” a big scavenger hunt through the city that most of the high school participates in as a huge social event, but her mother forbids it because she thinks it’s too dangerous.  Before he died Ellie’s father left her a huge antique hourglass, and the two of them get in a heated argument over it, and some kind of magic occurs that makes them switch bodies on the day of the wedding (which is also the day of the hunt).  They both have to keep it together and try to get through the day without ruining the other’s life, and they gain new perspective from it.

I really enjoy all of the Freaky Friday movies, the 1976 version I watched over and over as a kid, and I’ve never gotten tired of the 2003 version, and this was as much fun to watch as the others.  It’s a fun premise, with a worthwhile (if heavy-handed) moral.  For me, what makes them so much fun is watching the acting range of the two main actors.  It’s really interesting to see how they can convey the body switch through not just wording and vocabulary, but subtle facial expressions, posture, and speech cadence, and each of the movies is a study just in that alone, to watch an actor play a character that has already been established onscreen by a different actor, and pulling it off.  Both of the leads here did an excellent job of that, and it’s enjoyable to see the uptight, always-in-control mom transform into an angsty teen persona and vice versa.

I could have done without the musical component.  I like musicals, but I don’t think everything has to be a musical, and I felt like it distracted from what I really wanted to see, the character moments in different bodies, and the nature of musical numbers is that they are by their nature overexaggerating the character moments.  This can work in a lot of stories, but for Freaky Friday I enjoy the subtler character moments the most.

All in all, it was a fun movie, but doesn’t have the originality of the 1976 version that started the set, and the 2003 version is by far my favorite of the three–I really like Jamie Lee Curtis’s and Lindsay Lohan’s acting.  But if you enjoy the previous movies as much as I do, it’s worth giving it a shot.