Even in her prime sexpot years, Jamie Lee Curtis’ anti-vanity has been a great part of her appeal. But something wonderfully liberating has happened now that the 44-year-old actress has looked Hollywood middle age in the eye: She’s glorious in Freaky Friday, a funny, shrewd, no-bull family comedy about the relationship between mothers and teenage daughters that allows Curtis the comedian to remember her days as a slinky starlet while making use of her wisdom as the mother of an adolescent girl herself.
In this particular ”Friday” — an exemplary Disney update of its own 1976 charmer starring Barbara Harris and a young Jodie Foster — Curtis plays Dr. Tess Coleman, an overscheduled, widowed psychologist at noisy odds with her 15-year-old daughter, Anna (excellent Lindsay Lohan, princess of the Disney remake following her nifty work as twin sisters in the 1998 version of ”The Parent Trap”). Tess gives Anna a hard time about the girl’s rock band; Anna gives her mother grief about Tess’ affable fiancé, Ryan (Mark Harmon). Then, with a boost of magic, they find that they’ve swapped bodies, and lives. Comic near-catastrophes ensue, followed by a deepened appreciation of each other’s point of view.
”Freaky Friday” makes room for serious issues, like a child’s anxiety about a parent’s remarriage and a parent’s anxiety about a child’s budding sexuality. But — written with a real understanding of contemporary kid culture by Heather Hach and Leslie Dixon and directed with a great appreciation of mother-daughter eye rolling by Mark Waters (”Head Over Heels”) — the movie also leaves space for plenty of smartly silly stuff, much of it supplied by Curtis with a generosity and playfulness that is its own kind of sexiness.
Embodying a teen horrified by adult squareness, Curtis-as-Anna gets a spikier haircut and buys a cooler wardrobe than Tess would have dared — then sprawls in a perfect imitation of gosling gawkiness, grossed out by the affections of a baffled Ryan. In fact, Curtis’ empathy with girlhood, and her wry pleasure in womanhood, is all about grace.