The Parent Trap

Dir: Nancy Meyers, 1998. Starring: Lindsay Lohan, Dennis Quaid, Natasha Richardson. Kids.
The Parent Trap

Let me just play my cards right now...On a lazy Sunday morning I was lying on the couch watching something called “The Family Channel” and BAM I became completely absorbed watching the 1998 remake of Disney's 1961 sorta-classic, The Parent Trap. Wow. I was blown away by it. And even with this Family Channel berating me with commercials (a 127-minute movie shown in a three hour slot), I was completely sucked in and moved by it.

Yeah-yeah, you know the deal...Two long lost identical looking little girls run into each other at summer camp. After some minor conflicts they realize that they're related, twin sisters to be exact. And then they hatch a plan to switch places in an effort to get their estranged parents back together and live briefly in the other's shoes. Before you scoff, let me remind you Shakespeare toyed with these same kinds of plots all the time (no, really, he did).

Of course you have to buy into the concept that a seemingly wonderful man and woman would break up and then selfishly each take a kid and never speak of the other half of the family again. Maybe shitty parenting was less questionable in the Rat Pack era, but it feels incredibly cruel in our kiddie indulgent America of today. That said - and hopefully ignored - buying into it becomes easy because of the remarkably charming performance of an eleven-year old Lindsay Lohan. Yes, that’s right, before she became a drunken mess of a young adult, she was a very watchable little actress.

Little Lindsey was “discovered” for The Parent Trap. Six years later she did the fairly smart teen comedy Mean Girls, freeing her briefly from the Jodie Foster-wannabe ghetto of Disney remakes including Freaky Friday and The Love Bug. But since then her white-trash behavior and the paparazzi's admiration of her newly formed bosom got her off track from being taken seriously as a talent. Watching The Parent Trap gives me hope for her one day. In The Parent Trap, playing Northern California Hallie and the British raised Annie, it's not that Lohan shows some deep well of Stanislavsky training, but she does have a face and personality the camera loves. Other then a feeble accent and hair style shifting, the twin characters are pretty interchangeable. No, Lohan’s charm is her freckled face expressions of pain and her raspy voice (she must have started smoking a pack a day around eight years old).

The original version was kind of a rip-off of The Patty Duke Show. It helped cement little Hayley Mills as Disney’s reigning queen of the '60s. Mills’ twins, in retrospect, seemed at least a few years older and a little obnoxious. Although it was always clear she was some kind of kiddie acting prodigy, she was not at all convincing as a real kid. Lohan does ring true (about as much as possible for a kid-actor in today's too cleverly written children roles), even when the movie is over the top.

And though Act One: Their Meeting and Act Three: The Trap all are rung a little too tight in search of comedy, it’s Act Two: Parent and Child Reunion that got to me.

As each girl gets to know her parent for the first time, the movie takes its time. When dealing with the American daughter with her English mother (the late Natasha Richardson) the movie even briefly plays it subtle and doesn’t hit us over the head. There is a small moment when the little girl lingers, looking at the things on her mother’s dresser, her perfume bottles and makeup, a close-up of the feminine glass pieces of her lamp, the opening chords to "Here Comes The Sun" play, and then back to Lohan’s face fascinated with the dainty clutter of a woman’s world she had never been exposed to. The scene nailed me. And the emotions it evoked were earned, not forced on me.

Dennis Quaid’s pretty-boy charm works perfectly as the girls' father and he more than adequately steps into the role memorably played by the great Brian Keith. Richardson is fine as the mother, maybe less plucky then Maureen O'Hara was, but believable in the teen girl dream-job world as a wedding gown designer. Elaine Hendrix really shines as Quaid’s creepy young love interest and foil to the twins.

The then enormously successful screenwriter, Nancy Meyers, making her directing debut, really provides the relationships with a subtly satisfying arc. It’s too bad her career would advance to hitting us over the head to feel emotions with the clunkers (and wildly popular) crap What Women Want, the way overrated Something's Gotta Give, and the forgettable The Holiday. Not that I'm gonna run out and rent say, Nim's Island (though it does look kinda watchable). But as far as remakes go...it’s much better then whatever next week’s latest horror remake on DVD will be.

Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Mar 15, 2010 2:32pm
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