Swap Meet

Horror-comedy Freaky is the latest film in the peculiar body-switch genre

The horror-comedy Freaky arrives this Friday in actual theaters. Taking obvious inspiration from the body-switch comedy Freaky Friday, the new film spins the concept into the horror realm by having a teen girl (Kathryn Newton) swap bodies with an adult male serial killer (Vince Vaughn). Freaky seems like a fresh twist on an old idea that I might even enjoy, if I still went to theaters.

However, if like me, you’re enjoying movies exclusively from home, there are plenty of takes on the body-switch concept to watch. Here’s a round-up of some notable entries in this peculiar movie genre.

Freaky Friday (1976, 1995, 2003)

Based on 1972 YA book by Mary Rodgers, the original Freaky Friday tells the story of a daughter (Jodie Foster) and mother (Barbara Harris) who switch bodies on Friday the 13th. Hijinks ensue as both must live a day in the other’s shoes, culminating in a ridiculous water skiing spectacle. While I’ve done no research to back this up, it feels safe to say that the popularity of Freaky Friday truly cemented the body-switch concept in pop culture.

There have been several Freaky Friday remakes, notably a 1995 made-for-TV movie starring Gaby Hoffman and Shelley Long and the 2003 box office hit starring Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis.

It’s worth noting that in the book and the 1976 film version, they accomplish the switch just by having the same simultaneous thought. In later versions a magical object (amulet, fortune cookie) is introduced to cause the body swap. An unfortunate trend in the American films of this genre is the reliance on a mystical Asian object or ceremony to accomplish the switch. The magic fortune cookie in 2003’s Freaky Friday was hardly the first instance of this trope, but let’s hope it’s the last.

All of Me (1984)

The success of Freaky Friday sparked many imitators throughout the 80s, such as Like Father Like Son and Vice Versa, in which the twist was, “this time it’s with men,” as well as 18 Again, which added the further twist of “it’s men this time, but one’s a grandpa!”

All of Me stands out among the spate of 80s body swap/transformation films by being actually funny. The plot also hinges on a different type of swap, this time a soul leaves a dying body and enters another. Lily Tomlin plays a chronically-ill millionaire who has arranged to have her consciousness transferred into the body of a younger, healthy woman via chanting and a special bowl. Steve Martin, as Tomlin’s lawyer, accidentally stumbles into the transformation ceremony and ends up with Tomlin’s soul in his body instead. Martin’s gift for physical comedy is essential here as he acts out the war inside his body between Tomlin’s will and his own. Director Carl Reiner mines plenty of comedy from the premise, but also manages to bring warmth to this story of unlikely friends.

Turnabout (1940)

In this early example of a body swap story, a husband (John Hubbard) and wife (Carole Landis) switch bodies with the help of an Indian idol they just happen to have in their apartment. Directed by silent comedy veteran Hal Roach, the film uses broad stereotypes of male and female roles to show how unfit each spouse is for the other’s life. However, the performances, including a great supporting cast featuring Marjorie Main and Mary Astor, give the movie an undeniable silly charm.

The filmmakers may have felt that audiences would forget that the two characters had swapped bodies because they made the odd choice to have the actors deliver lines in voice over while their ”swapped” bodies lip sync the lines; so, you have Hubbard’s voice coming out of Landis’ mouth. Luckily, this did not become a standard feature of body-switch stories, so we never have to experience a teen girl speaking with Vince Vaughn’s voice.

Face/Off (1997)

While technically a face-switching movie, this action-thriller has many of the same beats of a classic body-switch comedy in which the characters must take on the personas that go with their new appearances. Because it is directed by John Woo, Face/Off also has truly operatic action scenes filled with guns, breaking glass, and doves. John Travolta and Nicolas Cage ham it up as an FBI agent and super-criminal who swap faces in an “experimental surgery.”

Travolta’s agent Sean Archer initially takes the face of Cage’s Castor Troy to go undercover in prison and get information about the location of a bomb. When Troy wakes up without a face, he takes the first one available and then proceeds to cause trouble among Archer’s FBI colleagues and creep out Archer’s wife and teen daughter. Don’t worry though, the surgery is totally reversible!  No magic medallions required, just a quick “off” with the new face and “on” with the old. That is, if their faces can survive the flying bullets, glass, and doves.

Your Name (2016)

This Japanese animated fantasy may only be a few years old, but it deserves to be held up as one of the best of the body-switch genre. It tells the story of two strangers, Taki, a teen boy in Tokyo, and Mitsuha, a girl in a rural town, who wake up to find they’ve temporarily switched bodies. The two teens discover they can communicate through notes and text messages, but struggle to understand why they keep switching in and out of each other’s lives.

While there is humor in the two teens literally feeling out their new bodies, the story also contains dramatic and romantic themes that give the film more resonance than the lighter comedies on this list. A hit with audiences in Japan and around the world, Your Name still ranks as the highest grossing anime film worldwide. Predictably, a live action, English-language remake set in America has been announced.

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Lani Gonzalez

Lani Gonzalez has appeared as a guest programmer on Turner Classic Movies and occasionally writes about what she sees at Cinema Then and Now.

One thought on “Swap Meet

  • November 12, 2020 at 4:59 pm
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    I had no idea so many body switch movies had been made! Great post!

    Reply

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