Conventions of New Comedy in Freaky Friday

Freaky Friday (2003, dir. Mark Waters) stars Lindsay Lohan as the rebellious Anna and Jamie Lee Curtis as her mother Tess, whose bodies get swapped around after a meddling grandma from the Chinese restaurant gives them magical fortune cookies. Hilarity ensues and the love interest Jake, played by Chad Michael Murray, starts to fall in love with Anna in her mother’s body. Meanwhile, Anna (in her mother’s body) must prepare for a wedding to her stepfather. The Oedipal element of New Comedy is very much present in this film but not in the traditional way. Instead of an active competition between the young person and the senex to possess the love interest, the involvement of the fantastical in this situation as well as a female-focused story allows for a comedic plot that is driven by the forced development of mutual understanding and trust between Anna and Tess. However, the other conventions of New Comedy are still followed. The characters standing in the path of the heroines are petty high school bullies in the “mental bondage…[of] social rituals, and selfishness”, which also brings out the ugly side in Tess when she exacts revenge and this lets the audience “ridicule [her] lack of self knowledge”.[1] The individual release that leads to the social reconciliation and comic resolution is the mended relationship between mother and daughter, in addition to Jake falling in love with the right (young) heroine after Oedipal confusion. At the final scene where the wedding takes place, the young couple’s embrace marks the symbolic death of the tragedy within the comedy – for it would truly be a tragedy if the mother and daughter never found a way to switch back bodies. The God-(Wo)man comes back to life again as Jake asks her, “Do you think we can rewind this whole thing and start again?” Notably, the spirit of reconciliation summons the presence of the meddling Chinese grandma, the “parasite, who has no business to be at the festival but is nevertheless there”.[2]

 

[1] Frye, Northrop, “The Argument of Comedy”, English Institute Essays, 1949, pp. 61.

[2] Ibid, pp. 62.

6 comments

  1. I like how you used this as an example of an untraditional comic Oedipus situation. Another blog post discussed how these are example of an even ‘Newer’ comedy, to what extent do you agree? Are films like this extensions of a pre-existing style or are they departures from the past?

    • After reading Harry’s post about “New New Comedy” I absolutely agree that Freaky Friday fits into his definition. The film clearly supports the need in society to “create or preserve female friendship independent of male influence”. This definition recognises that the structures of Old Comedy, New Comedy and the Comedy of Remarriage are no longer the norm nowadays. However, I think Freaky Friday’s reliance on the heroines is still worth examining in relation to the roles of heroines in Old Comedy.

  2. I think this is a good example of a reinterpretation of the Oedipal theme. It is building from the conventions of New Comedy but not following the expected template. Could the return of Anna and Tess to their real bodies be seen as the symbolic revival of the heroine, as seen in the comic resolution of Shakespearean comedies? (With the symbolic death being their transformation at the beginning).

  3. I like how you acknowledge that the film is an inversion or twist on the classic conscript of the Oedipal complex. I also like your characterization of the bullies and enforcers for the rules and conventions of modern society.

  4. I liked how you talked about the Oedipal element, but how it is prevalent in a nontraditional way. This allows us to think of the differences throughout this film, and analyze how it all works out. I also liked how you wrapped up your blog post by tying in the fortune cookie to some of the final words of the movie.

  5. The Oedipal element is definitely present in the Lindsay Lohan remake of “Freaky Friday”. The young high schooler Jake falling in love with a middle-aged woman who has the spirit of her teenage daughter within her after undergoing a body swap is pure comedy and is a great example for analysing Frye’s writing.

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