Published August 1, 1998
The Parent Trap, directed by Nancy Meyers, is an intermittently charming remake of the Disney classic of 1961 which starred Hayley Mills as twin 13-year-olds, separated since birth, who meet by chance at a summer camp and then plot to reunite their divorced parents. In this version the twins, played by Lindsay Lohan, are presented as 11 instead of 13 (for some reason, even their birthday has been changed), but the fantastical nature of their enterprise has if anything become more pronounced. In the original, mom (Maureen O’Hara) was a well-to-do Bostonian who lived for her charity-work and dad (Brian Keith) was a rancher in California. Now mom (Natasha Richardson) is a world famous English dress designer and dad (Dennis Quaid) owns a vineyard in the Napa Valley. “We both actually got what we were aiming for” the two yuppily reflect on first seeing each other after 11 years.
No wonder they did something as bizarre as taking one twin each and parting forever 11-years ago! I know it is the donné of the film (as it was of its predecessor and of the novel by Erich Kästner on which both are based), that is, the premiss that must be accepted for anything else to work. But it is a very high hurdle to get over. More seriously, it sets the seal on the film as mere fantasy. As both parents are very wealthy, the proposed marriage of two such separately successful people, necessarily supported by butlers and nannies and housekeepers, doesn’t look quite so foolish as it would doubtless be in real life, but I suppose that if you set out to gratify so universal a fantasy among the children of divorce, why stop with a reunited family? Why not throw in a few million dollars to boot?
The fantastical nature of the story won’t matter so much to children, but it ought to matter. The film strikes me as an opportunity missed not to make the story and the characters more plausible, more like those in the millions of American “broken homes” (as the Hayley Mills version so quaintly called them) who know much better than most children did in 1961 what divorce is really like. There are brief moments of poignancy and humor. When, unbeknownst to him, the London twin sees her father for the first time and keeps calling him “dad,” he asks her why. “A dad is an irreplaceable person in a girls’s life,” she replies. “I missed being able to call you dad.”
Later, when dad tries to tell her that he is going to marry a much younger woman called Meredith (Elizabeth Hendrix) by saying that he wants to make her “a member of the family” she replies: “Oh good! I’ve always wanted a sister. I think it’s wonderful idea that you’re going to adopt Meredith.” It was a joke that was also in the original film, but it is more effective here. This bimbo-heavy is so thin she is probably almost as light as the 11-year old. She is an obvious gold-digger who confides when dad is not present that her first act on marrying him will be to ship her off to a boarding school. How better to proclaim her, as the girls proceed to do, “Cruella DeVil” (a little Disney synergy there!). Yet I wonder how the proposed dénouement involving a bi-continental marriage is to be sustained by these much more wonderful parents if not with the help of a boarding school? Just asking.