In all three versions, an unlikely romance pops up between the daughter’s crush and the daughter in the mother’s body. Boris flat-out falls for Mrs. Andrews, not realizing she’s actually Annabel. Chad Michael Murray adds some grunge cool to the Lohan version as Jake, who decides that Tess-in-Anna’s-body is too young for him, but the real Anna is just right.


Rodgers contributed a lot of her original dialogue to the 1976 screenplay, and although the lead actresses do their able best to carry the lines across, they lose some of their bite off of the page. The generic suburban California setting didn’t help at all; Annabel seems right at home as a cheeky young New Yorker, but she’s much tamer in an immaculate subdivision. The 2003 screenplay varied almost unrecognizably from the source material except for the set up, and here Anna suffers from the same schematic problem as a typical suburban kid.

Another element the two cinematic versions lack: In the book, it’s clear that Ellen is the one doing the switching. It’s a unspoken nod to the greatness and tenacity of mothers, that they have hidden powers that can accomplish amazing things like switching bodies. Original movie Annabel and Ellen just happen to say the same words at the same time; 2003’s Tess and Anna have to bring in a mystical fortune cookie from a Chinese restaurant to pull off their switch.

In the end, they both have to reach the ultimate self-sacrifice to get their own bodies back: Tess lets Anna go off to her band audition during her rehearsal dinner; Anna is willing to go through with the wedding to Ryan because not doing so will break her mother’s heart. 1976 movie Annabel and Ellen just repeat the same words simultaneously again.


All three versions end in the same beneficial way: a deeper understanding and love on the side of both mother and daughter (why no other version of the story thought to have females as leads is still a bit of a head-scratcher: Dudley Moore and Kirk Cameron, Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage, all switched fathers and sons). But having lived in each other’s skin, Annabel and Ellen, Tess and Anna, all have greater knowledge of what the other goes through in a given day.

The teen years are a notoriously torrential time of communication breakdown between kids and parents. Rodgers’ creation of Freaky Friday goes to an extreme level to get those parties talking again (we can only wonder if it was inspired by one of her own teenage children, or her own childhood), but in the end it shows no better way of empathizing with the other person’s life. Placement tests, field-hockey matches, carpet cleaners, surly housekeepers, childhood bullies, unrequited love: No one’s life is ever really easy, for teens or grownups. Everyone you meet is going through struggles you can’t comprehend, even/especially members of your own family. Freaky Friday shows that despite these vast generational differences and struggles, the love between mothers and daughters remains a valuable, mystical constant.


Start with: The book absolutely deserves a resurgence, as Rodgers’ breathtaking, biting dialogue still resonates decades later: An excellent read for anyone age 10 and up who has parents. But the movies both hold up relatively well, primary due to the strength of all four actors juggling these parts (Lohan really had a promising career before she went off the rails). The Freaky Friday movies now make for a perfect family group watch, to remind parents and kids that the other generation’s life is not as easy as it seems.