Nobody will believe me, thinks thirteen-year-old Annabel (Jodie Foster), but it's true, it really happened. She was the daughter of Bill Andrews (John Astin), a public relations man, and his wife Ellen (Barbara Harris), and she felt as though they both had it easy compared to the kind of trouble she had to go through as a kid every day: surely being an adult meant you could do whatever you wanted? To make matters worse, her younger brother Ben (Sparky Marcus) was the perfect child when judged against her - it was as if nobody understood the problems she had. So how about a major change?
Freaky Friday was based on the novel by Mary Rodgers, who adapted her own work here, and was a female variation on the old Vice Versa conceit, where the younger swaps bodies with the older. This being a Disney movie, it's not worth dwelling on why Annabel and her mother inhabit each other's bodies when they simultaneously say out loud that they wish they were living the other's life, it's something to do with it being Friday the 13th or something, but that's really just an excuse for a string of gags where we know that the exchange has occured, but they're not letting on to anyone else.
The truly freaky thing about this film is that when the main characters do swap over, Foster is more convincing as a thirty-eight-year-old and Harris puts in an awards-worthy performance as a young teenager, so at least the casting director knew what they were doing. Harris especially is superb, wringing laughs from situations which are corny at best, whether she's blowing bubblegum or skateboarding her husband to his car, acting far more the brat than Foster does in the Annabel role. The reason they don't immediately seek each other out and work out what to do about this is because they decide they have something to prove.
First, mom wants to show that she can cope with being a schoolgirl far better than Annabel can as an adult, and Annabel is determined to have fun to demonstrate that being a housewife is a life of leisure. Naturally, they have some learning to do, with the woman in a girl's body finding that she now appears far more precocious than she ever did before, and that the sole thing she is good at at school - reciting facts she has recalled - does not endear her to her friends, who do not believe her protests that she is not the same person, but have their suspicions about her as the day draws on.
Annabel as Mrs Andrews, meanwhile, finds that she has obstacles to relaxation when about fifty people arrive to ask her for things in one morning, and now she has to look after Ben as well. It doesn't help that she overloads the washing machine and has to walk to the shops to buy her groceries because now she cannot drive. There are a smattering of gags for the adults in the audience, where for example Mr Andrews likes the fact that his wife is now calling him "Daddy", but mainly this descends into good-humoured Disney mayhem, with a water skiing calamity waiting to happen and Jodie Foster driving a Volkswagen Beetle in a high speed chase which features some surprisingly good stunts and tricks. It's the old "walk a mile in my shoes" lesson we're being sold here, but this is one of the live action House of Mouse movies from the seventies that stands up fairly respectably. Music by Johnny Mandel.