The effervescent Barbara Harris

The effervescent Barbara Harris

Freaky Friday must seem like a strange movie to write about.

It’s not a classic movie by any stretch, especially the remake this past decade starring Jamie Lee Curtis and whatsherface.

But the 1976 version is definitely worth watching, if only to catch one of the few film performances of the effervescent Barbara Harris.

I picked up the movie recently for the kids to see. I thought they might enjoy seeing Jodie Foster as a kid, having just seen her as an adult in Nim’s Island. I was also curious what I would make of Foster’s performance as a kid. I remember as a young boy being struck by her charisma. But although perfectly serviceable, her performance doesn’t really stand out in Freaky Friday, especially next to Harris, who blows everybody else in the film completely off the map, and who makes Jamie Lee Curtis in the remake look like a complete amateur.

When Harris first appeared on screen I didn’t have a clue who she was, and I wrote her off as some forgettable B string actor from the sixties (though later I realized I have seen her, in films such as Grosse Pointe Blank, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels).

Almost as soon as she switches bodies with Foster’s character, Harris proves she’s a cut above. She inhabits the role of a child in a full grown woman’s body, making it utterly believable, but more than that she’s just so darned interesting to watch, beautiful for one thing, but beyond that vibrant and funny, quirky in the best sense of the word, and ALIVE. I was glued to her performance for the entire film, and as soon as it was over I raced to the internet to figure out who she was.

Turns out she was a well regarded Broadway actor who only ever did a smattering of films (16 all told, I believe), perhaps most notably in Robert Altman’s Nashville, which I haven’t seen yet, but must, just to see her.