The Parent Trap Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1998

The Parent Trap

Disney has lately been repackaging its old school offerings and unleashing them on a new generation of moviegoers-- witness the reincarnation of "The Absent-Minded Professor", "101 Dalmations", and "That Darn Cat". The latest Disney classic to be resurrected on the big screen is the 1961comedy "The Parent Trap". The original starred fifteen year old Hayley Mills (now touring on a stage production of "The King and I") in the dual role of two twins attempting to get their estranged parents back together again. This latest remake is actually the fourth rehash of the original, as it was actually re-made three times during the Eighties as a series of made-for-TV movies, all of which starred Hayley Mills. The 1998 version of "The Parent Trap" offers more of the same bubbly family fare of the original, yet another 'silly grin movie' (much like Disney's earlier summer release "Mulan"). Despite some shortcomings and its re-treading of familiar territory, this remake manages to please on the strength of newcomer Lindsay Lohan's vibrant vivacity and the delightfully-breezy staging and production values that capture the feel-good atmosphere of your prototypical Disney production.

But if your mom is my mom, and my dad is your dad, and both our birthdays are on October 11th, then that means we're... like... like sisters!

Lindsay Lohan... and Lindsay Lohan

At an upscale Maine summer camp, eleven-year olds Napa Valley resident Hallie Parker and Londoner Annie James (both played by Lohan) bump into each other. And despite the fact they bear an uncanny resemblance to one another, they develop a dislike for each other, and attempt to outdo one another in a series of competitions and childish pranks. When one of the nefarious schemes go awry, both girls are relegated to an isolation cabin, where they learn that they have much in common. They then realize that they are in fact twin sisters that were separated at birth, with the clincher being that they each possess one half of the same photograph, a wedding picture that their parents took on board the Queen Elizabeth II, eleven years and nine months prior. Desperately wanting to meet their respective estranged parental units, the sisters hatch a plan: Hallie will return to London posing as Annie, and Annie will return to California as Hallie. Of course, the scheme will eventually be discovered, and the two girls count on their parents having to meet in order to 'unswitch' them.

I'll teach you to be me, and you teach me to be you!

Natasha Richardson and Dennis Quaid

After an intense training session, where they each learn one another's mannerisms, they head 'home' and the ruse begins. Hallie learns that her mother, Elizabeth James (Natasha Richardson) is now a world-famous wedding gown designer, while Annie comes to know her father, Nick Parker (Dennis Quaid), who owns a vineyard in Napa Valley. However, the initial bliss is short-lived as Annie learns that Nick is about to re-marry, which would put a serious dent into the planned reconciliation. Nick's fiancee, Meredith Blake (Elaine Hendrix), is not only young and stunningly beautiful, but she is also a cold-hearted gold-digger. This, of course, spurs the girls to move up the timetable for their plan to get the parents back together again.

I missed you Dad!
I know, it seems to be like forever.
You have no idea!

The marvels of digital technology...

The dazzling centerpiece of this film is the disarmingly charming Lindsay Lohan who handles the material well, infusing the film with much of its spunk and charm. Not only does she shine in playing two disparate twins, each with their own quirks and idiosyncrasies, but she also handles the emotional subtleties that arise from many of the subtext-laden scenes. This spunky actress certainly has a bright future based on the strength of her performance in this film. Furthermore, with the help of digital technology and acting double Erin Mackey, the illusion of Lohan in the dual roles is seamless, suspending all shreds of disbelief.

'Lovely girl'... 'horrid habit'... did they send you to summer camp, or finishing school?

First-time feature director Nancy Meyers, who adapted David Swift's original screenplay with the help of Charles Shyer, captures the Disney essence in the look and feel of this film. Not surprisingly, the husband-and-wife duo of Meyers and Shyer are no strangers to crowd-pleasing fare-- their winning effort "Father of the Bride" captured the fancy of audiences in 1991. Using ditties from the Sixties and some staging that is easy on the eyes, Meyers not only underscores the upbeat tone of the story, but also makes it accessible to older audiences. However, Meyers whimsical direction also leads to one of the main faults of the film-- its laggard pacing. The story dawdles much too long on certain scenes, such as the summer camp hijinx, which diminishes the energy of the story somewhat with some unnecessary exposition. And as the action heats up by the third act, with the narrative seemingly coming to a resolution, the denouement ends up becoming derailed when the script goes off in a different direction. Running at just over two hours, this film could have been better if Meyers had judiciously jettisoned some of the extra weight, and stuck to a more conventional three-act structure.

His and her kids... I'm sorry to say Mom, but this arrangement really sucks!

Another problem with "The Parent Trap", or with Disney films in general, is how the complexities of relationships are oversimplified to the point of absurd artificiality. The relationship between Nick and Meredith is clearly pathological in this film, with Meredith clearly being bitchy to the extreme. Furthermore, the motivation of Elizabeth to walk out on her husband eleven years prior is also glossed over, making the inevitable reconciliation that much easier. So instead of having Nick and Elizabeth having to truly challenge their own motivations and desires, they are provided a deus ex machina cop-out for resolving their respective moral dilemmas. I admit that "The Parent Trap" is clearly aimed at younger audiences, but this dated view of adult relationships strains credibility with its clear-cut perspective and perhaps sends the wrong message in an age where half of all marriages end up in divorce. Maybe if there was more exploration into the dynamics between Nick, Elizabeth, and Meredith, this film would have truly been great, instead of the enjoyable fluff it was.

Despite the shortcomings, this upbeat offering has enough wit, charm, shine, and contemporary sensibility to delight audiences. If you can tolerate the slow pacing and its unrealistic view of reconciliation, you'll enjoy all that "The Parent Trap" has to offer. It's not great, but it's an entertaining family film that will easily put a silly grin on your face.

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