those age- swap­ping come­dies

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

which Jodie Foster and Bar­bara Har­ris play a mother and daugh­ter who close the gen­er­a­tion gap by be­com­ing each other, kicked off the mod­ern trend, but it was in the 1980s that the genre came into its own. The decade pro­duced at least seven movies based on the story of an adult who wakes up a teenager.

In 1986’ s Peggy Sue Got Mar­ried , Peggy Sue ( Kath­leen Turner) faints at her school re­union and wakes up in 1960, po­ten­tially avoid­ing mar­riage to a cheat­ing hus­band. Di­rected by Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola, it was one of the few such films aimed at adults.

The rest, such as Young Again ( in which Robert Urich wakes up in the body of Keanu Reeves), were dis­pos­able teenage fare. There was 18 Again ( 1988) star­ring Ge­orge Burns and Char­lie Sch­lat­ter; a mod­ernised Vice Versa ( 1988) star­ring Judge Rein­hold and Fred Sav­age; and Like Fa­ther Like Son ( 1987) star­ring Dud­ley Moore and Kirk Cameron. Dream a Lit­tle Dream ( 1989) had the two Coreys, Haim and Feld­man, and a plot so com­pli­cated it barely made sense, but it was pop­u­lar enough to spawn a 1994 se­quel.

Af­ter the ’ 80s, the genre did not en­tirely dis­ap­pear but was less com­mon. There were two re­makes of Freaky Fri­day : a tele­movie star­ring Shel­ley Long as the mum in 1995 and a 2003 ver­sion with Lind­say Lo­han and Jamie Lee Cur­tis. The 2000 tele­movie Seven­teen Again did the fa­mil­iar con­cept with an African-Amer­i­can cast.

There was also the 1999 ro­man­tic com­edy Never Been Kissed in which a shy, dumpy jour­nal­ist played, un­likely as it may seem, by Drew Bar­ry­more, is sent un­der­cover to a high school, giv­ing her a chance to see what school is like when your nick­name isn’t Josie Grossie.

Of late, the adult-turned-youth theme has taken on high­brow re­spectabil­ity in movies such as The Cu­ri­ous Case of Ben­jamin But­ton and Cop­pola’s Youth Without Youth , an adap­ta­tion of Mircea Eli­ade’s novella. One is about a man who ages in re­verse; the other about a man who goes from be­ing smart and old to bril­liant and mid­dle-aged. Nei­ther has a scene in which they date the coolest per­son in school.

The cross-gen­er­a­tional ap­peal keeps such sto­ries alive. Pair­ing a well-known older ac­tor with a young spunk ( Perry and Efron, Cur­tis and Lo­han) de­liv­ers some­thing for par­ents and chil­dren. Younger view­ers, es­pe­cially, like a movie in which adults are told to chill.

The films may be made for kids but they are made by adults. It’s prob­a­bly no co­in­ci­dence that their pop­u­lar­ity peaked in the late ’ 80s. Baby boomers who grew up in the counter-cul­tural ’ 60s and be­came the greed-is-good ma­te­ri­al­ists of the ’ 80s wanted a re­minder of their more care­free and ide­al­is­tic youth.

They also of­fer a rem­edy — even if a tem­po­rary, il­lu­sory one — for the frus­tra­tions of ado­les­cence. They tap into a fan­tasy that we can put that petty au­thor­i­tar­ian teacher or mean-girl clique in their place. Both Freaky Fri­day ( 2003) and Hid­ing Out have a scene where the adult-as­teenager calls out a teacher for ar­bi­trary bul­ly­ing.

For that rea­son, by the time Efron is as for­got­ten as for­mer teen stars Kirk Cameron and Char­lie Sch­lat­ter, movies about adults who be­come teenagers will still be in pro­duc­tion. That’s how age­less such themes are.

17 Again opens on April 16.

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