Time for another Film First! We bookish types are always complaining that the book is better - but what if you saw the movie first? Would you STILL prefer the book? Or has the movie already improved upon it?
This time, I'm talking about Freaky Friday. No, not the 2003 Jamie Leigh Curtis version. And definitely not the 1995 Shelley Long remake. I'm talking about the original 1976 movie starring Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris. Which, obviously, is the only version worth watching.
NOTE: You'd be forgiven for thinking that the 1988 Judge Reinhold/Fred Savage offering Vice Versa was also an adaptation of Freaky Friday (I did). But you'd be wrong. In fact it is an adaptation of an 1882 novel by F. Anstey with the same name. Anstey's book has also been adapted for film multiple times, including a version released way back in 1948. You have to wonder if it inspired the then 17 year old Mary Rodgers, who went on to write Freaky Friday in 1972.
Let's be honest here. Freaky Friday is not the greatest film known to man. It's cheesy. It's Disneyfied. And it's dated. But I still love it.
Arlo and I sat down and re-watched it last night, with a huge bowl of popcorn and a cheeky glass of red, and I have to say I enjoyed it immensely. It is exactly the brightly coloured, fizzy nonsense that you need sometimes. Especially if you are (like me) bogged down with too much work and too many episodes of some dark and complicated drama series.
In case you haven't seen the movie, the basic plot is that Ellen Andrews and her daughter Annabel argue a lot, and think that each other's life is much easier. They end up swapping bodies for the day with 'hilarious' consequences.
It works because both Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris are brilliant. Foster was only around 13 at the time of filming, but who better to play an adult trapped in a child's body than Tallulah herself? Bugsy Malone was released in the same year as Freaky Friday, and I'm not sure if she was cast as Annabel Andrews before or after. But I like to think that the producers saw her in Bugsy and knew the search was over.
As brilliant as Foster is, I do think Barbara Harris steals the show as Annabel trapped in her mother's body. She's like a kid who has suddenly been let loose in a sweet shop - gleefully trying on all her mum's best clothes and ALL her makeup, blowing bubbles as she rams everything into the washing machine willy-nilly. She's totally convincing as a kid who's trying to pretend she's a grown up, and very funny to boot.
So is the book better?
Souping it up
Mary Rodgers actually wrote the screenplay for the movie herself, so it doesn't stray too far from the original plot. Pretty much all the things that happen to Annabel in the book also happen in the movie. She ruins the washing, fires the cleaner and goes to her school to speak to her teachers about herself. Besides 'losing' her little brother, she doesn't really have a massively stressful day, and actually seems to take it all in her stride. In fact, she does such a convincing job of being a grown up, that at times I forgot that it was Annabel talking and not her mother.
Rodgers thankfully realised that this was going to make for a fairly boring film, and decided to ramp things up significantly. Instead of having to make dinner for two of her father's clients, she's expected to cater for 25 people at the last minute. The carpet cleaners, the curtain cleaners, and her neighbour all come round clamouring for her attention all at once. She kills the washing machine, ruins her father's shirts, smashes a window, rips her dress and burns a turkey. So a far more stressful day on the whole. If all that weren't enough, the film naturally ends with a slapstick car chase as she illegally (and very badly) drives to a waterskiing show at the Marina.
How the other half lives...
Rodgers also thankfully remedied something else that was sorely missing from the book - her mother's point of view. The book is written in first person, meaning you only get to hear what happens to Annabel (in her mother's body). There is nothing at all about how her mother gets on as Annabel. In fact, you only find out what happened to her at the end, and it sounds as though her mother had a perfectly relaxing day playing hookey from school - eating a fancy restaurant and getting her hair done. In the movie, Ellen is forced to (re)experience high school where she ruins a photography class, a typing class, marching band practice, and a very important hockey game. She's scorned for knowing too much in history class, and ends up having to perform in a waterskiing show for her father's clients.
In the book, Annabel learns to appreciate her mother more, but Ellen doesn't come away with any notion that it's not a barrel of laughs being a teenager either. It works far. far better seeing both points of view and having both Annabel AND Ellen learning more about the difficulties each other faces.
Finally, the ending is WAY better in the film. The book's version basically has Annabel passing out and waking up to find she is back in her own body with her mother next to her. In the movie, Annabel (in her mother's body) is in the middle of a car chase, and her mother (in Annabel's body) is waterskiing - they both wish they had their own body back, and suddenly Annabel (in her body) is now driving the car, and Ellen (in full evening dress) is now waterskiing. It's a clever little twist, which adds just enough interest to the end of the movie to stop it being the damp-squib that is the book.
The book was a nice idea and has some amusing moments. Annabel is an interesting (if not always likeable) character, and it's very easy to read. But it is really obvious that the movie is the book that Mary Rodgers wishes that she had written. In true Freaky Friday style, it worked out well that Rodgers was able to look at the story from a different perspective and to improve things dramatically.