those age- swapping comedies
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.