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Freaky Friday


Gen-X-Review-Freaky-FridayThe new Disney remake of Freaky Friday is intended to highlight the generation gap between today’s boomer parents and their echo-boom offspring, but what it really proves is that the meaning of childhood is determined by the consuming public.


In the original 1977 Freaky Friday, 15-year-old Jodie Foster was trapped in Barbara Harris’ middle-aged body – but this experience was nothing new for the actress. Foster had played a whore, a runaway, a carnie with loose morals, and a murderess long before her sweet 16th birthday, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary for her to assume adult roles.


Foster was a symbol of my generation, pimped out and set on the streets in order to toughen her up for the brutal realities of the world. Never mind that those selling and buying us were adults, or that the generation that had celebrated childhood the most now seemed to want to smash its image into as many pieces as possible, it was good television to see Foster, 13, serving johns in fishnet stocking or Brooke Shields, 15, mouthing that nothing got between her and her Calvins before taking it all off in Blue Lagoon.


Freaky Friday was the most ironic Disney film of all time, since there was no way Foster could be confused for a child. While Harris overacted, pouting and throwing temper tantrums in her unflattering imitation of childhood, Foster’s cool depiction of an adult trapped in a child’s body was chillingly good, the kind of performance that can only come from someone who has survived ritualistic abuse.


Children had to be taught to act like adults as soon as possible in 1977. The youth culture of the 1960s had collapsed, leaving nothing but the hollowed-out husk of innocence behind. Returning from San Francisco, many boomers felt cheated, as though they’d been invited to a party that had suddenly soured, and they stamped my generation’s youth as cheap and derivative at best. Childhood was doomed for those of us following in the wake of the sixties, and we were told to buck up and accept it.


This was the message of the original Freaky Friday, and although it critiqued adults for behaving childishly, it mostly underscored the idea that children had to grow up as fast as possible. That was then, this is now. Today’s Freaky Friday chides adults for being too grown-up while celebrating kids’ spontaneity, natural goodness and god-given abilities.


Kids rule in the new Freaky Friday. They forge real relationships and have genuine talents while their boomer counterparts seem to have forgotten how to have fun. Anna (Lindsay Lohan) is a spunky, intelligent, gifted teen with a rock-solid philosophy that emphasizes cooperation, friendship and honesty, while her mom, Dr. Tess Coleman (Jamie Less Curtis), is an uptight and controlling psychologist.


Mother and daughter explode at one another when two very important events conflict in their lives. Tess’ wedding rehearsal dinner and Anna’s big rock show overlap, and neither wants to compromise and see the other’s point of view. But Tess and Anna’s world suddenly upturns when an old woman casts a spell on the mother and daughter by passing them identical Chinese fortune cookies. When they wake the next morning they find themselves inside the other's body.


We learn about the characters as they learn about one another. In assuming each other’s positions, they are destined to grow more empathetic. And because their problems are only misunderstandings, the bonds formed post-switch promise to be even sweeter than before, especially if Tess has learned to smarten up and treasure her charming little daughter.


(Kids are given the upper hand in the film, and we smile in satisfaction as Anna tells her mom, “stop shrinking me!” after she has tried to get into her daughter’s head. But honestly: A wedding rehearsal IS more important than a rock concert, isn’t it?)


Tess is one of those S.U.V. driving soccer moms we hear so much about. Although successful, there’s something phony about her and after the switch, when she is in Anna’s body, she tells her daughter just to nod and ask her patients, “what do you feel about that?” when she meets with them. Obviously this is a trick the doctor has done herself from time to time.


Anna, on the other hand, is a prodigy: Artistic, intelligent, articulate, pretty in a non-threatening, non-sexual sense, rebellious without exhibiting any long-lasting antiauthority tendencies. An exceptional student and accomplished musician, formal education is mostly a drag for her. It contains hypocrisies from the adult world and forces this precocious youngster to run through a maze of red tape. This sort of school might have been fine 20 years ago, but today’s kids are far too special to have to sit through dreary classes.


What might at first glance appear to be a refreshing humility in the baby boomer psyche is, however, merely good-natured self-deprecating humor. Yes, adults need to learn from their beautiful, special, god-given children, but that’s okay, since all they really need is to remember their own free-swinging past. Children are both their mirror and their reward for having saved childhood and placed it in the sacred bodies of their offspring.


After the switch Anna uses her mother’s body to expound a kind of sexual scream therapy that would make William Reich blush and she becomes the wild child she was in her youth, donning hippie regalia and riding on the back on a Ducati Monster. Things were good back then, and if they’ve become muddled it’s okay because today’s teenagers are boomers in another form, and will remind them of who they really are by celebrating yesterday’s head culture as today’s fashion statement.


And the delightful little echo-booms? Well, look at where they came from: How could they not be perfect, adorable children? Yes, they may play rock music, but it’s not that nasty punk stuff of the 70s and 80s, thank you very much. It’s lively, sanctified rock: Sort of Nirvana by way of a Mountain Dew commercial.


Oh, those wonderful Indigo Children, taking us back to our own youth, back to the bright days of 1958 to 1964, before everything went so wrong! Childhood has officially returned in the form of the boomers’ own kids and the only freaky thing is that it was taken away in the first place.

 
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Seabiscuit

Gen-X-Review-SeabiscuitI didn’t want to like Seabiscuit. In my heart I know horses are just big, dumb dogs that eat grass. There’s a sort of sophomoric sentimentality around these animals I just don’t get. “The horse is, like, symbolic,” I hear some 12-year-old girl saying in my head, ending every sentence as though it were a question, “of man’s need to be free?”

 

Ugh.


So I’d begun jotting down clever putdowns even before Seabiscuit had begun. I find in the margins of my notepad: See, Bisquick – not so much a film as a cake mix destined to cause diabetic seizures, ersatz, junk food for the soul. Horses. Feh.


But now I suddenly want a pony of my very own. I want to learn all those old, cheesy horse songs like Wildfire and The Wild Horse. I’m even considering saddling up my ferret Wilbur to see if he’d take to the bit.


I hate to admit it, but Seabiscuit is great. It is so good, in fact, that my wife forbade me from saying anything bad about the film as we left the theatre. “Don’t you dare even open your mouth if you didn’t like that movie,” she said. “I just don’t want to hear it.” I sat glumly in the truck, trying to think of something negative, just to be a booger. But I couldn’t.


Seabiscuit is a classic American movie. It repeats the old myths we’ve learned to forget, the stories that have been banged out of our heads, the vital fables that make this country great. Bringing together elements of the Western, the sports film and the epic romance, it is strangely a thing unto itself, a remarkably big film about remarkably big ideals.


Ostensibly about a little horse named Seabiscuit, the film is actually a complex retelling of our primal mythology. The horse does indeed symbolize freedom, but it also signifies an anxiety over industrialization; expresses misgivings about eugenics and class; and (most importantly) speaks to our country’s need to believe in the power of the individual, especially when that individual stands in for the collective and national.


In a real sense our country began in the West, in the desire to push the horizon as far as it could go. The West has always been our new Eden, and men like Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) rebuilt themselves in the open canvas of the desert. In the beginning of the movie Howard leaves a failed career in an Eastern factory to make his fortune by re-imagining the Stanley Steamer in a new form and makes oodles selling his racy Buicks.


Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) is a man of the plains – a cowboy – facing his own extinction. The automobile has made the continent small and barbed-wire fences divide up the landscape as easterners push farther toward the Pacific. Smith is the last of a breed of men, a sort of horse whisperer who speaks the secret language of the desert.


When the film opens, Red Pollard (later played by Tobey Maguire) is a young boy living with his affluent bourgeois parents. The country’s prosperity – especially its success in the West – trickled down to all Americans in the 1920s, and the Pollard family enjoys a life of luxury unimagined by earlier middle-class families. Pollard’s father even decides to buy the boy a horse.


These are particular people living individual lives, but Black Monday spins each of them in their own way, tearing them from families and loved ones, setting them adrift in the world, severing their bonds to place. The stock market crash bears down on them and they survive mostly by trying to forget what was once important to them.


In the years following the collapse, the country sustained itself in mostly survival mode. Unemployment climbed to over 20 percent and many Americans migrated to the West Coast in a sort of collective amnesia. What emerged from that time, however, is a country whose belief in itself, in its own goodness, seemed unflappable.


The three men’s lives converge on Seabiscuit in the late 1930s, toward the end of the depression. Like them, he has been beaten and abused and all but forgotten. The horse has been forced to lose, desire trampled out of him until he can express only stupid anger. On little more than a whim Howard hires Smith to find him a racehorse and the cowboy buys the animal, though he appears limp and dejected. Unable to find any reasonably minded jockey to ride the creature, Smith eventually discovers Pollard, who has drifted in and out of racing since his parents left him on their way to the West.


The horse becomes a national symbol as they begin winning races. If the Westward migration represents America’s ability to re-imagine itself, the years following the depression show the country’s redemptive capability. What was broken could be redeemed and made whole once again. The mean days of the 1930s only indicated toughness in the nation’s spirit. Seabiscuit is an articulation of that dream, that beautiful myth.

 

One drawback to writing a positive review of a film like Seabiscuit is that you end up endorsing its naïve platitudes to some extent. So it’s with a heavy heart that I find in my notes such lines as “we can afford to lose anything but our dreams” and “what we learn from races isn’t necessarily what it takes to win, but what it takes to try.” I pass these along to you in the spirit of Christmas to do with what you will. In my defense I will say that it is a film that drives even hardened cynics to applause.


There is a lot riding on this little horse, and this film won’t let you down. Even if you think horse is a four-letter word.

 
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