Extra Credit: Five Body-Changing Comedies to Stream After ‘I Feel Pretty’
In the weekly column Extra Credit, Charles Bramesco recommends supplemental viewing for moviegoers whose interests have been piqued by a given week’s big new release.
A woman with low self-esteem sustains a head injury during spin class, and awakens with access to untapped reservoirs of confidence, starting with the bod she now sees as rockin’. Look out, corporate America! The Amy Schumer vehicle I Feel Pretty feels like the biggest smash hit of 1989, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The late ’80s, ’90s and early ’00s formed the golden era of go-get-’em-girl second-wave feminism and broadly appealing studio projects built around female mega-stars. (What must we sacrifice to get another Miss Congeniality for the present day?) The body-change script was a constant standby in this particular vein of mainstream filmmaking, a fish-out-of-water premise out of its own skin.
The entries in this rather specific subgenre don’t command a lot of critical respect, but their pleasures are simple and potent: a peppy soundtrack, a quirky best friend, the obligatory moment when our hero looks at themselves in the mirror and screams once they realize what has happened. Gently pinch your elbow to confirm that this isn’t all a dream, and read on:
Directed by Penny Marshall
Available for rent
The body-change flick par excellence, this high-concept comedy spun a gargantuan smash out of ‘what if boy trapped in adult’s body?’ (the same affliction currently experienced by Guy Fieri) and invented a movie star in then-TV favorite Tom Hanks. The childlike sense of guileless wonder — never exemplified more purely than in the delightful and oft-parodied keyboard-dance scene — and an agreeable moral about staying in touch with your inner kid despite the demands of adult life perfectly fit Hanks’ boyish charm. (Someone, identify the year in which he pivoted from America’s good son to America’s good dad.) It’s sick-day cinema, the kind of endlessly rewatchable standard that goes down easy every time.
13 Going on 30 (2004)
Directed by Gary Winick
Available on Netflix
The biggest difference between Big and this clear descendant isn’t that the protagonist role has switched to the distaff side. Whereas Hanx simply grew a few feet overnight, gawky middle-schooler Jenna Rink (Jennifer Garner) actually stumbles into her own future, where she’s alarmed to learn that the intervening years have made her a real prick. A girlhood need to be popular planted the seed for decades of manipulation and backstabbing that the suddenly-grown Jenna cannot remember, and so she must rush around her chaotic yet fabulous life atoning for sins like an Ebenezer Scrooge with Blahnik pumps. While she did some excellent work in this video, Garner’s performance here remains her finest hour.
17 Again (2009)
Directed by Burr Steers
Available on MAX GO
We now move from Girl Big to Reverse Big (Small?), as this outlandish fantasy film expects us to believe that Matthew Perry minus twenty years equals Zac Efron. Sad sack Mike turns back into his former adonis self as a path towards fixing his grown-up life, where his kids disrespect him and his wife wants to leave him. The ensuing self-improvement has some weird, inadvertently amusing sideshows, however — there’s the sweltering sexual tension between Efron and his adult-self’s wife Leslie Mann, his constant meddling in the lives of his children as one of their contemporaries, and a classic oddball-best-friend turn from deadpan master Thomas Lennon. For a viewer well-versed in this school of comedy, it’s an essential entry.
Freaky Friday (1976)
Directed by Gary Nelson
Available for rent
No disrespect to Lindsay Lohan, but viewers would do well to steer clear of the recent remake and go right for the 1976 adaptation, with a young Jodie Foster in the LiLo role (though it was overshadowed by the, uh, other movie she did in 1976) and Broadway dame Barbara Harris as her put-upon mother. An errant wish that they could spend one day in each other’s shoes triggers the one body-swap to rule them all, and leaves them with the valuable lesson that everyone’s got their own struggles to deal with. That dozens of imitators would spring up in this improbably influential film’s wake is a testament to the universal, enduring power of empathy as a driving comic force. Everyone could stand to take it a little easier on one another.
Teen Wolf (1985)
Directed by Rod Daniel
Available on Tubi TV
I won’t hear word one about this heathen television series replete with sexy teens. Give me Michael J. Fox with weird prosthetic hair hot-glued to his legs or give me death! The idea could not possibly be simpler: he’s got the big basketball game coming up, but uh-oh, looks like he’s going through lycanthropic puberty at the worst moment imaginable! In films of this nature, the main character usually must keep their bodily change a secret, but the fun of this picture is that the were-cat gets out of the were-bag about halfway through, when the townspeople surprise everyone by being totally cool with a magical mutant in their midst. (So long as he keeps racking up wins, that is.) Accept no substitutes.
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