Sunday, September 9, 2012

Books on Film: Freaky Friday

I was lucky enough to discover the book version of Freaky Friday first. It was in my school library, and the title seemed interesting enough. Little did I know that through the years, I would eventually become exhausted with what's become one of the most over-used plot devices in the whole of fiction writing. But when I first read the book, it was brand-new and unique. I think that's how author Mary Rodgers intended it.

The Book

Freaky Friday was published in 1972, and adapted into film almost immediately. The story quickly caught on with young readers. They probably identified with Annabelle Andrews, like I did. Annabelle wakes one Friday morning after arguing with her mother, and discovers she now is her mother -- at least, she's in her mother's body instead of in her own.

Freaky indeed. Now, Annabelle has to run the house and take care of her brother Ben, whom she calls Ape Face. As it turns out, being a homemaker is one adventure after the next, and Annabelle really has no idea what her mother does all day to keep everything running smoothly. She ends up getting aid in the form of Boris, a neighborhood boy with whom she's secretly in love. Instead of being in her own awkward teenage body, with teeth covered in braces, she's in her mother's gorgeous body and Boris is more than willing to hang around. She doesn't tell him who she really is, of course.

It's not Annabelle's intention to spy, but through no fault of her own she does obtain surprising information as the day wears on. As it turns out, Ben actually adores Annabelle and craves her friendship. She also learns that Boris's real name is Morris; he just has such terrible congestion he can hardly be understood.

Meanwhile, Annabelle has no idea where her own body is. She's got little time to think about this problem, however, as the house is practically falling down around her ears. But she can't help but think about the argument she had with her mother, and realizes that it was by Ellen's doing that their bodies mysteriously switched. 

And the bodies switch back again. When Annabelle finds herself back in her body, the braces are gone and her hair and clothes are different. Mrs. Andrews has been quite busy! But both have a new understanding and respect for each other after the switch, and the mother-daughter relationship is much closer. 

It's a great little read, so don't let my summary keep you from reading it. But even if you haven't, you're probably pretty familiar with the story. After all, Disney's turned it into a movie three times.

The Film

The very first film adaptation of Freaky Friday was written by the book's author and helped propel one Hollywood leading lady into lasting fame. It was made in 1976 with Barbara Harris as Mrs. Andrews and a young Jodie Foster as Annabelle. Foster made two other films that year, and won the most notice and acclaim for Taxi Driver, but did get a Golden Globe nod for her turn as Annabelle Andrews.

Rodgers greatly expanded upon her own story to create the film. This time, mother Ellen Andrews was a protagonist along with Annabelle, and watchers get to see how she's faring in the wilds of High School while Annabelle is struggling with the responsibilities of running a household. Annabelle was also given a talent for waterskiing, and set the stage for the two to have a comical switch while Ellen-as-Annabelle is trying not to break her neck while hanging onto the back of a boat. 

In this version of the story, viewers actually get to see the switch happen. Barbara Harris is fantastic in her role of Annabella-as-Ellen, and Foster is equally exceptional acting like a grown, married lady while in the midst of a bunch of lackadaisical teenagers.

This time, we see Ellen-as-Annabelle leaving school to go to her "father's" office, where she asks for his credit card and intimidates the heck out of his young, attractive secretary. The movie ends with an allusion that Mr. Andrews and Ben, the younger brother, might be on the brink of switching places themselves.

The film was a big commercial success, and both the leading ladies were nominated for Disney decided to do it again in 1995. This time, Freaky Friday was a made-for-TV movie starring Shelley Long as Ellen Andrews and Gaby Hoffmann as Annabelle. This time, the switch between them is actually explained -- a pair of magical amulets causes it all to happen. Lots of changes were made in this version. Annabelle is now a diver, Ellen isn't even married and Bill is her boyfriend, not her long-time husband and Annabelle's father. Boris/Morris is reduced to a cameo character, and Annabelle's love interest is now a guy named Luke. The dynamics of her life at school are greatly expanded upon. This time, the cast includes a principal, teachers, and the school's Queen Bee.

In 2003, the story changed again. And again, Disney did the changing. This time, Freaky Friday starred Lindsay Lohan as Anna Coleman and Jamie Lee Curtis as her mom. An enchanted Chinese fortune cookie causes the switch this time, because that's not stupid at all. Anna is now into rock-n-roll, and she's given a little brother again (Harry, played by Ryan Malgarini). She's in a rock band, and her mother (now named Tess) completely disapproves. Dad/husband died three years ago, and the family is still trying to adjust. Anna is also failing English and has a terrible time getting along with her mother. Tess has a wedding rehearsal occurring the same night Anna wants to go to a band audition, and it starts a huge argument while they're at the Chinese restaurant. A magic fortune cookie later, and the stage is set for a freaky Friday.

After making the requisite attempt to switch their bodies back immediately, the two are forced to carry on in each other's bodies and lives. Tess finds out why Anna is getting bad grades in English and confronts the teacher in front of everyone, thus taking care of the problem. Meanwhile, Anna has to try and fake her way through work. Tess goes on to give Anna a makeover before the two go back to the Chinese restaurant together. The two learn more about each other, Tess discovers how important the band is to her daughter, blah, blah, blah, they switch back. By this point, Freaky Friday doesn't look anything like the original book.

What Got Adapted? 

In the original movie version, Annabelle continues to narrate the story in Jodie Foster's voice. This is because the book is told from her point of view, and the film maintains that flavor. The movie actually takes watchers into Ellen's day as Annabelle, something we didn't get to see in the book, and it's a nice addition. We learn that Annabelle plays field hockey, marches in the band, has a ton of friends and even water skis.

Annabelle-as-Ellen loses control quite a bit more in the movie. In the book, she manages to hold it together until the very end. In the movie, she ends up firing the maid and causing one calamity after the next.

Body-swap stories are turned into books and movies all the time, but it wasn't Rodgers who started the trend. The book Freaky Friday is quite similar to the 1882 book Vice Versa: A Lesson to Fathers. In this story, a father and son switch bodies. A magic stone causes the switch, and as the story goes they end up with a deeper understanding of one another.

The best film adaptation of Freaky Friday is the original, and this is the only one written by the book's author. It actually does what film adaptations should do: it expands on the original story, and gives readers even more. That's why the 1976 version of the story is a can't-miss adaptation, and a great representation of its inspiration.

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  1. Don't worry Jade, I'm old enough to remember it too!!
    Indeed,some adaptations are way off the mark.
    p.s. full marks for the research :)

  2. Thanks! I'm glad you liked the post.