Our cable modem's been crashing a lot lately, usually just for a couple of hours here and there but sometimes for upwards of 24 hours at a stretch. Last Friday was a total washout, for instance. So without the web to help me avoid doing anything constructive, I found myself seized by the urge to reread Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers.
There's also a new Freaky Friday movie out, which I have no interest in seeing despite the fact that the book is among my top dozen favorites. I've seen the 1976 Jodie Foster version and the 1995 TV movie with Shelley Long, and from what I've seen of the new version, it has the same flaw as its predecessors: it uses the title for its cachet as one of the most popular YA novels in history but discards virtually everything else except the premise. Actually, the movies don't even really get the premise right: they're just generic body-switch plots, where the entertainment value is supposed to come from watching an adult actress act thirteen and a pubescent actress act middle-aged. This automatically tosses one of the overarching plot threads of the novel: if 13-year-old Annabel is now in Mom's body, why does Annabel's body seem to still be inhabited by Annabel? Where'd Mom go? Is she responsible for the switch? Is she spending the day in Jackie Onassis's body? Is she dead? Thematically, it's kind of hard for Annabel to learn how parents worry about their teenage children if she knows that her teenage child is actually thirty-five and unlikely to end up under a bus.
Now, okay, maybe the thematic elements aren't a huge loss. But that's not all these movies throw out. Freaky Friday's strongest suits are its narrative voice and its wonderful comic timing, both in the dialogue and the plot; heck, anything I've learned about comedy writing started with Mary Rodgers. There are conversations in here which are just howlingly funny (and other jokes which flew way over my seven-year-old head but which struck me as hilarious this time out). The characters are also well-drawn, right down to the bit parts. None of this makes it into the films. I don't get it. If you decide you're going to use the premise for your movie, and you've already licensed what is basically the best possible execution of that premise, why discard it to swap in some generic crap? A glance at the list of characters for this year's adaptation reveals no overlaps with the book; it's like finally securing the film rights to The Catcher in the Rye and then slapping the title on some sitcom writer's screenplay about 16-year-old Hayden Garfield and his wacky adventures trying to start a ska band in Los Angeles.
Come to think of it, maybe that's why Salinger won't relinquish the rights. Smart guy.