Freaky Friday – 1976: Look back at the original role reversal movie with Jodie Foster

Freaky Friday movie (1977)

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There were a lot of iconic movies in the 1970s that left their indelible mark on cinema history — from Jaws and Rocky to Star Wars and The Godfather

Kids growing up in that decade, however, may forever have a soft spot for Disney’s whimsical film, “Freaky Friday,” starring a young Jodie Foster (who — as indicated by the interview below — was incredibly mature for her age, both on and off screen).

While it wasn’t necessarily groundbreaking, this role reversal movie captivated audiences with its charming storyline and witty humor, creating a legacy that has already spawned three more remakes — made in 1995, 2003, and 2018 — along with talk of a long-awaited sequel.

Freaky Friday – 1976: Ultimate role reversal

By Joseph Gelmis, Central New Jersey Home (New Brunswick, NJ) February 9, 1977

The mother thinks her 14-year-old daughter is a lazy slob. The daughter considers her 35-year-old mother a cranky tyrant. Each is sure if the roles were reversed, they’d be an exemplary child or parent.

Freaky Friday - 1976 movie switcheroo

In “Freaky Friday,” Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster get their wishes, switch places and learn some lessons about perspective. You aren’t going to find out anything you don’t already know. Meaning depends upon context. Reality depends upon your point of view — where you see it from.

But the movie manages to make the personality switch mildly effective (mother and daughter are better persons for having seen life through the other’s eyes). And the actresses are so accomplished, it’s a pleasure to watch them going through fairly predictable material.

Freaky Friday - 1976 movie poster

Barbara Harris was superb in “Nashville,” as the country singer who gets to sing after the assassination of the star, and in “Family Plot,” as the fake spiritualist. She breezes through ”Freaky Friday” as the attractive housewife with the mind of a 14-year-old calling the shots.

Her role calls for her to be overwhelmed by the duties of running a house and catering to the needs of her children and chauvinist pig husband (John Astin). She can’t handle the cleaning woman (a boozing Patsy Kelly) and panics when she has to make decisions. She flirts with a teenage neighborhood boy her daughter has a crush on.

Freaky Friday - 1976: The whimsical role reversal movie
Don’t miss the vintage McCormick/Schilling spice rack on the upper left!

If Barbara Harris has the waif quality to play a woman-child, Jodie Foster, an alumna of Disney movies and sitcoms, has the vamp traits to play a child-woman. She was the teenybopper hooker of “Taxi Driver” and the world showgirl of “Bugsy Malone.”

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In “Freaky Friday,” she is merely called upon to play a child with a grownup’s mind. She chides her fellows for bad manners, babbles on in history class about events she knows from having lived through them, discovers how difficult being well-behaved is when you’re being clobbered on the hockey playing field by girls, or taunted in school corridors by punkish boys.

Freaky Friday - 1976 movie scene - Jodie Foster getting hair curled

Based on a screenplay by Mary Rodgers, adapted from her own novel, “Freaky Friday” is a movie for, say, 10-year-olds that, because of the cast, wouldn’t be painful for grandmothers of the world to sit through.

There’s a wild car chase at the end, as a bonus. As for the supernatural origins of the personality switch, they are never explained.

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Jodie Foster is a 13-year-old adult

Vernon Scott, Hollywood in the St Joseph News-Press (Missouri) June 5, 1976

“I’m not a child star. I’m an actress.”

Jodie Foster is right on both counts. Jodie, a professional performer since age 3, starred opposite Robert DeNiro in “Taxi Driver,” playing a 14-year-old prostitute in one of the most violent films in movie annals.

As the debased waif in the slime of New York’s sex traffic, Jodie gave an outstanding performance. So polished an actress is she that three of her pictures are being shown in the current Cannes Film Festival.

Freaky Friday - 1976 movie review

In addition to “Taxi Driver,” her work is represented in “Bugsy Malone” and “The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane.” She shrugged off the distinction with indifference the other day.

Jodie, 13, is in the process of starring in “Freaky Friday,” her fourth picture for Disney. She was in the studio commissary dispatching a thick steak. Even without makeup and despite a sprinkling of freckles, Jodie projects a maturity far beyond her years. Her voice is on its way to becoming a baritone.

She speaks in adult terms. Her manners are pleasant, but in no way a reflection of childhood. She treated the studio publicist along with a woman who acts as her guardian during the working day, as equals in every way.

MORE: Young Brooke Shields: The spectacular (& controversial) early career of a supermodel

It would be nice to report that Jodie returned to the Disney nest and reverted to the pleasant little girl seen on screen before “Taxi Driver.” But it would appear she never was that lovable creature. Jodie never possessed a Shirley Temple quality, but developed the childish, false adult veneer of her contemporary, Tatum O’Neal.

“I love nothing better than working in movies,” she said. “I’ve been a working actress for 10 years. So far I’ve done 50 commercials and 10 movies. And I’d rather not talk about my television series.

“I did the ‘Paper Moon’ series (from the movie starring Tatum) and ‘The Courtship of Eddie’s Father‘ and ‘Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice.”‘ I was in ‘My Three Sons’ for awhile. But I never wanted to do a television series. And I hope I’ve done my last. It’s better to freelance. you get more interesting things to do.”

Freaky Friday - 1976 - the mother-daughter role reversal movie with Jodie Foster

Asked if she’d taken acting lessons, she made a disparaging gesture. “My acting is instinct. Certain kids have the timing and ability to mimic,” she said. “Others don’t. I’m not bragging or anything, but that’s the way it is. And it’s important not to be self-conscious.

“I don’t think of myself as a child actress, and I haven’t for years. But everybody treats me like a child. Even the directors treat me differently from the rest of the cast. They give me instructions in a special tone of voice — not like they talk to other actors on the set. But that’s all right. It won’t last forever.”

ALSO SEE: Escape to Witch Mountain: Disney’s 1975 classic movie with two paranormal orphans & a flying Winnebago

Jodie is a squarely built little girl. Her blue eyes look directly at the person to whom she speaks. She doesn’t giggle. The role of a Prostitute in “Taxi Driver,” she said, is her favorite. “I liked it because I enjoyed doing it and I knew I did well,” she said. “I could hardly wait to see it. It’s getting a little boring now because I’ve seen it six times.

“But I didn’t have to do anything special to play the part. I’m not a method actress. I don’t believe in the method. It isn’t necessary to live a part or feel it all that deeply to play it convincingly.

“If you’re a professional, you read the script, and you do what it says to do. That’s really all there is to it.”

Freaky Friday - 1976 the original role reversal movie with Jodie Foster

Jodie, dressed in an uncomfortably tight wet suit for a water skiing scene in “Freaky Friday,” said her current role as a girl in an upper middle-class suburban family is neither more nor less difficult than her part as a juvenile hooker.

“It’s all acting,” she said. ‘”But there is a difference. In this picture, we stick to the script. In ‘Taxi Driver,’ we ad-libbed almost every scene, which made it more exciting.”‘

When Jodie completes “Freaky Friday,” she will return to Disney to costar with David Niven and Helen Hayes in “Candleshoe.”

Asked if she is impressed at the thought of working with the pair of Academy Award winners, Jodie shrugged again. “When they first told me about the picture, someone said the studio was trying to get Katharine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier for the parts,” she concluded. “I guess it just didn’t work out that way.”

MORE: Classic Walt Disney Home Video VHS movies & short collections from the ’80s & ’90s

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