“Versa Effect,” a “Freaky Friday” film of awkward proportions, is set in the environment of two feuding teachers caught in the grips of Murphy’s Law. In other words, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. And it often does. The movie itself is hilarious, but the experience of watching the film is made more interesting by a few major details.
The first is that “Versa Effect” has no soundtrack. The second in that the entire dialogue is presented in sign language, with a fully deaf cast and crew.
The story starts off with a flashback. Children are playing on the playground and in slow succession we are shown a dollhouse being filled with doll figures. Just as it seems like the house is finally full, a playground ball crashes into the scene, and we’re confronted with two children at odds with one another.
There is Jackie, the owner of the house, and Seth, the one who threw the ball. In the taunting manner of children wanting attention, he quickly makes fun of her for having dolls at her age. But even as the other children scatter, what could that wink he gave her mean in the long run of their lives?
Jackie doesn’t notice—she’s too occupied picking up the pieces before lingering on the very last a doll, which resembles a professional businesswoman.
And so begins the story of two people who love to hate one another.
Years later at a deaf school in Texas, we are shown the old schoolmates as adults. Both are on the eve of their thirtieth birthdays, but their lives have little connection beyond the fact that they work at the same place. Jackie is the principal, a respected educator in line to become the next superintendent. Seth teaches gym and coaches for the track team.
Seth is forced into walking a fine line as his track star student, Derek, receives failing grades and is threatened with a suspension from sports. To suspend him, however, would incite the ire of his gang-affiliated grandparents.
With Jackie determined to make the removal of Derek an example of her stern governing skills, she is unknowingly putting both of their lives at risk.
Particularly when those lives become a tad…complicated.
Between them stands Doris, another teacher out for the superintendent position who is both Seth’s on-again, off-again girlfriend and Jackie’s rival.
With Doris trying to manipulate events so that she can get the position, while also vying for a return to Seth’s arms, the situation goes from bad to worse.
After a stressful day at work, filled with Derek and Doris and gang-related threats, a simultaneous birthday wish sends Jackie and Seth unconscious, waking up in one another’s bodies, beds, and homes.
“Jackie” tumbles straight into a panic attack when she realizes that not only is her hair gone, but “her” room is also being invaded by an unknown male (Seth’s friend Doug, who has come to pick him up for work).
Meanwhile, “Seth” states in a zombie-like process of waking that 1. he doesn’t know where he is, 2. he doesn’t know who Jackie’s sister, Cathy, is and 3. upon hearing the statement that she is “his” sister, informs her that he never had a sister causing Cathy to look both hurt and irritated.
That’s before the school day has even begun, in a flurry of clothing searches, shocked mirror moments, and the revelation that they’ve become one another.
To share more would be to give away the rest of the story and the hilarity that follows. So suffice it to say, the idea of body switching has never been funnier.
Rosa Lee Timm is fantastic as both Jackie and Seth-in-Jackie’s-body, balancing easily between the two personas with an emphasis on what makes men and women vitally different.
She also focuses on their contrasting personality types: Jackie’s need for perfection, organization, and control, held against Seth’s directness and apathy for details. Particularly in those moments when “Seth” recognizes the situation that they’re in, realizes that he needs to fix it, yet somehow still makes the situation worse via attempts at explanation.
Meanwhile, Russell Harvard is serious and seriously funny as both Seth and Jackie-in-Seth’s-body. First in the clear anxiety and conflict he displays in his position as a teacher being literally threatened, and then later, in the transformation into “Jackie.”
Harvard’s Jackie-in-Seth’s body still believes that Derek should be expelled, dresses “herself” in a tailored suit and scarf, and can’t quite seem to understand that she can’t go to her superintendent interview as Seth, “standing in for Jackie.” His mannerisms are clearly feminine, and wholly superior when confronted by “Seth” in her old body.
A slew of entertaining supporting characters buoy the story up, starting with Virginia Morford as the delightfully spiteful Doris.
Crystal Finley and Chuck Baird come in as a humorous, heartwarming portrayal of Jackie’s sister, Cathy, and Seth’s befuddled friend and coworker, Doug, respectively.
“Versa Effect,” is rated PG and is an enjoyable, funny film for the whole family. Subtitles are presented for those who are unfamiliar with American Sign Language, or it can be watched in its original format.
In the case of “Versa Effect,” the appeal is strongly evident as the local community came out in droves for the presentation held by the Utah Community Center for the Deaf. This was the only public showing of the film in Salt Lake City, but the film can be purchased on ASL Films’ website.
ASL Films was created in 2005 by Mark Wood and Mindy Moore. “Versa Effect” is ASL Films’ sixth movie and Wood’s first comedy.
ASL Films is unique in that it is focused on creating movies with the deaf community in mind. As quoted on ASL Films’ website, “ASL Films is committed to creating sophisticated entertainment with an appeal that both inspires and rewards sponsors and audiences alike.”
To learn more about ASL Films (or in preparation to order “Versa Effect” on DVD), visit www.aslfilms.com.
To find out about upcoming ASL-related events, visit the Utah Association for the Deaf atwww.uad.org.