by Coco Delgado
When is a remake better than the original, but not as good as the book?
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When I was about nine years old, two of my favourite books in were “Freaky Friday” and “A Billion for Boris,” both written by Mary Rodgers. They were witty, urban, intelligent Young Adult books, set in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. I grew up in a dull California suburb full of cul-de-sacs and greenbelts; even at that tender age, I could not wait to escape that hell and settle into a grey, concrete, grid-based jungle filled with honking cars and harried pedestrians.
So imagine how thrilled I was when, in 1976, Disney released a movie version of one of my beloved books. This Freaky Friday starred Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris as the body-swapping mom and daughter. I made my dad take me to see it as soon as it came to town (even then I was a rabid movie-goer), something I realise now was a tremendous sacrifice on his part.
I was so disappointed after seeing it. No longer the clever New York fable about a precocious and articulate girl (whom I identified with and idolised) who wakes up to discover she’s her mother, Disney turned it into a run-of-the-mill Southern California suburban slapstick comedy. Who wanted to see that? Not me! Where was the scene with the NYPD? Where was the beetloaf? Still, all the major characters were still there and unchanged, Annabel Andrews and her parents, Ellen and Bill, her horridly perfect brother Ape-Face, and her dreamy but adenoidal boy-next-door Boris Harris were all present and accounted for.
So when I learned that Disney was planning a remake of their first botched attempt, I was naturally skeptical. But it starred Leslie Lohan (who saved the remake of the Parent Trap from sucking horrifically) and Jamie Lee Curtis, so I wondered if maybe, just maybe, they were going to do right by my book.
Because the new version of Freaky Friday, while better than the first, bears even less resemblance to its source material. This time, Annabel is just Anna, and her last name is Coleman; her mom is Tess, a busy psychologist and author, who is is marrying Ryan (played by a very old-looking former Sexiest Man Alive Mark Harmon) on Saturday. Ape-Face is now called Harry, dad is dead, and Boris has been replaced by Jake.
Boris is still in the movie, in one scene, as an “Air-Ex” deliveryman, and played (in a fit of aren’t-we-so-clever Disney whimsy) by Marc McClure, who played Boris in the 1976 version. (He is better known for his role as the disappearing older brother in Back to the Future.)
Between Anna’s rock band, mom’s impending nuptials, and the fact that much of the action takes place in school, the original story is completely lost. However, if you can divorce yourself from that, it’s a fairly entertaining confection. Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan have a lovely chemistry, and there are some truly funny moments. And there’s one change that actually improves the story: the addition of the Chinese restaurant as catalyst for the body swap. And it has its moments. Jamie Lee Curtis gets some chances to shine and both actresses convey the “wrong body” concept quite well. The music is surprisingly good as well; did you ever think you’d see a Disney movie mention such bands as the Hives, the Shins and the Ramones?
Still, the basic problem with both versions of this story is that the screenplays focus on the mother’s day in her daughter’s body, whereas the book is about the young girl acting as her mother, fending off her dad and dealing with adult situations. We barely see mom-as-Annabel in the book at all. This is, undoubtedly, Disney’s fault for wanting to target prepubescent girls and showcase promising young starlets, but think of the brilliance that could be wrought from featuring a talented character actress playing the girl-as-grown-up. Lisa Kudrow, for example, would work wonders with the part…and she’d also be perfect for the necessary Manhattan setting. It could be a comedy for all ages, instead of a teen flick.
I just hope, if and when the Powers that Be get around to making the movie version of “A Billion for Boris” (which, actually, is a better book), they preserve its inherent intelligence and urbanity. They won’t of course…but I can always re-read my books and dream, can’t I?
Coco Delgado lives in Cambridge-Somerville and always sits in the front row. Her 2003 New Years resolution is to see more than the 66 movies she saw last year.
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