“That Said…” #2: The Parent Trap

Just about this time last year, Matthew Lyons took a look at the redemptive qualities of Spice World, the Spice Girls movie. This year, he’s decided to focus his attention on Lindsay Lohan’s remake of The Parent Trap. I’ll admit, I’ve never been a big Lohan fan, but by the time I finished reading this I wanted to give the remake a try. It’s streaming on Netflix, at the moment, if you find yourself similarly inclined.





The Parent Trap, 1998

In the words of the prophet Method Man (also known as Mister Mef & Tical, praise be unto him): Konichiwa, bitches.

I’m back.

Ain’t I just.

You know, I’ve seen a lot of shitty movies over the past ten months, and I have to say, I’ve loved a whole lot of them.  But one recent viewing stands out as something that I just can’t get over: The Parent Trap ’98.

Now, this one holds a special and strange place in the hall of shame, because I wasn’t the one that picked it out.  No, this was the selection of my otherwise lovely and tasteful wife.  It was on Netflix, it was easy, fine, whatever.  I thought it was going to be a bit of fluff while we ate dinner, but you know what?

When we got to minute forty-five, I was fucking hooked.

And, look, it would be easy to lament Lindsay Lohan’s career trajectory, her battles with the law and with sobriety, all that.  Pretty much everyone in the world has snarked and snarked about that until they could snark no more.  I’m not going to do that… any more than I already did in my headline.  (What do you want from me, I get one good one, I’m done now, promise).  The fact of the matter is that, for as shitty and sarcastic and holier-than-thou as we all like to act about her (yes, even you, don’t lie to me, I can read your goddamn mind), everyone actually laments Lindsay Lohan’s fall from grace largely due to the fact that there was real grace there to begin with.

But (much, much) more on that later.

Let’s get our facts straight before diving into the reasons you should love this movie as much as I love this movie, shall we?

This is an objectively bad movie. It’s a shameless cash-in on a movie that was done forty (forty? Something like that. Going to run a fact check on this… or maybe not. See if I remember to put it in the side notes.) years before, and had, in the interim, lodged itself securely in the hearts and minds of the Disney-watching public. It may be one of the first remakes that everyone loves to lament now.  It may have been the first.

They use the word “actually” like most action movies use the word “Fuck.”  I’m going to go through and count how many times.  See if I don’t.

Parts of it feel cheap and shoehorned, it has like five or six logical endpoints before the actual finale of the movie, and the whole thing is just… it’s just fucking riddled with the in-your face sensibility of “EH? EH? YOUR PARENTS LOVED THIS SHIT WHEN HALEY MILLS DID IT, SO HOW BOUT WE ALL PLASTER ON A BIG OLE SMILE FOR DIRTY UNCLE WALT AND SUCK IT DOWN AGAIN, HUH?  NOW SAY THANK YOU”.


They did this a few years later with Freaky Friday, which I might do at some point in the future.  Lindsay Lohan’s in that one, too, now that I think of it.

And, yes, it is filled with the kind of nudge-nudge-wink-wink that at least acknowledges that it’s a remake.  But it doesn’t make you feel cleverer for it.  It doesn’t make you feel in on the joke, it just feels like the movie’s waving its ego in your face.

Also, and this is just a shitty nitpicky little thing, but instead of British Haley Mills doing a passable American accent, Lindsay Lohan’s British accent is remarkably bad.  I mean, downright terrible. YES, I GET IT, SHE WAS ELEVEN YEARS OLD AT THE TIME, SHUT UP. THEY PUT IT IN THE MOVIE, IT’S FAIR GAME. READ THE MANIFESTO.

Like I said.  Objectively bad movie.

But aside from the accent, you know something?

Lindsay Lohan kills it in this movie.

it’s easy to forget that, beneath the trainwreck of a human being that she’s become in the past ten years, there is an actress there who got to where she is (was?) by being sharp, bright-eyed, energetic, enthusiastic, smart as a whip, and not entirely a terrible actor.

She murders it in this movie.  She makes the movie.  Not even kidding.  Her acting is actually acting.  When was the last time you could say that about an eleven year old?  For example:

She takes the time to differentiate the twins, Hallie and Annie, not just in accent, but in mannerisms, facial expressions, and general posturing and bearing.  She’s good enough in this movie to make us forget that this is one little girl playing two little girls, and not twins playing, well, twins.  For anyone, that’s not nothing.  For an eleven year old, that’s fucking remarkable.

She’s precocious, she’s identifiable, she’s emotional, she’s not cheap about any of it, she doesn’t mug at the camera, and she ultimately comes off like she always gives a shit, which is hard to do when you’re in basically every last scene in the movie.  She gives a shit about not just doing a good job, but acting the best that she can.  Which in turn makes we the audience give a shit.  She develops and fosters emotional investment here.  Again, not easy.

But the real nuance in her dual performances comes when the twins switch so they can each meet their respective long-lost parent.  Because then not only do you have Hallie and Annie, but you have Hallie-as-Annie and Annie-as-Hallie.  You have one little girl playing two little girls who are subsequently playing each other.

The levels of that are remarkable.  It’s worth paying attention to, because she flips those little mannerisms, those little touches for each twin, and spins them.  They’re there, but you can actually see her trying to suppress them as her respective characters. It’s fascinating.  She does such a wonderful job in this movie, and you didn’t even notice, did you?  You were too busy getting shitty and snarky and you totally missed the great thing that was happening on your screen.

I feel sorry for you.

That’s not to say that the rest of the cast are slouches or slumps or slackers, though.  No, fact is, I’d be hard pressed to find anyone in this movie who phoned it in.  (Maybe the guy who played Grandfather, but at this point, I’m starting to think they just pulled an old British man off the street and told him to say wizened, doofy old British man things at the cute little redhead while they filmed it.  Could have gone terribly, terribly wrong, in retrospect.)

Dennis Quaid, Natasha Richardson, Lisa Ann Walter, Elaine Hendrix, Simon Kunz, holy shit, all of you.  Everybody in this movie put so much into their roles, and for what?  For a remake of a mediocre kids’ movie from the early sixties?


Dennis Quaid: how the hell charming is this guy?  And, worse, he knows it, too.  He’s so intensely aware of his own charm and that is exactly what makes him more charming.  He’s earnest, he’s loving, and even a little rambunctious.  He’s just doing the best job that he can, and it might not be perfect all the time, but holy hell it’s good.

Natasha Richardson: Come on, now.  You can’t watch this movie and tell me that there’s not a single part of this woman’s performance that doesn’t remind you of your own mother (or, barring that, the idealized mental version of “Mother” that you’ve got in your head).  She’s the platonic ideal here – smart, beautiful, kind, loving, understanding, but vulnerable.

Also, seeing these two acting together, I actually buy that they were a couple who got divorced after a whirlwind romance and birth of twins and haven’t seen each other since.  They’re awkward but affectionate, they’re friendly but standoffish.  They make it real.

Lisa Ann Walter:  I have to admit, I fell a little bit in love with Chessy while I watched this again.  I mean, I was thirteen when this came out, and I refuse to believe that this had zero influence on my taste in women later in life: smart, brassy, clever, quick-witted brunettes who know how to cook.

And, for the record, my falling a bit for Lisa Ann Walter should not at all mean that my wife has anything to be jealous about.

Just kidding, she totally does.

Elaine Hendrix: Okay, talk about Platonic Ideals.  Whoof.  I gather from Ms. Hendrix’s twitter feed that she’s actually a super kind of thoughtful woman, but holy fuck does she play a huuuuuuge bitch in this movie.  She’s the worst.  The absolute worst.  And I suppose that’s kind of the point.  She absolutely owns every scene she’s in as the Wicked Future Stepmother.  She dominates, but she gives everyone else room to be funny and heartfelt, too.

Simon Kunz: Come on, Martin was charming, wasn’t he?  Identifiably sweet, and hey now, butler got moves.  I’m not entirely convinced of the romance between he and Chessy there at the end, but whatever.  That was just for flavor, anyway.  The real point of him was the friendship between he and Annie, and I believed the hell outta that.

A quick note, here at the almost-end, about the music – the music in this movie is actually really good.  I mean, sure, a lot of it is boilerplate family movie stuff (Ray Charles, Natalie Cole, etc), but every now and then it’ll pull a Linda Ronstadt or Bob Geldof or Dusty Springfield into the scene and it just pulls the whole thing together.  Astounding.

One last thing before I’m done:

In the past few years, I’ve been paying attention to the use of color in costuming choices to signify unspoken connections (or lack thereof) between characters, and this movie just kills on that angle.  Blame Mad Men.  Seriously, it’s a huge element in that show, and while not so incredibly pronounced in this movie, it is verifiably there.  Whoever costumed this movie (hold on, I’ll look… Penny Rose.  She’s done the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, that Lone Ranger thing, and… really?  She costumed Pink Floyd The Wall?  Shit, okay.  She’s pretty good at this stuff.)

I don’t want to spoil it, so instead I’ll say go watch the movie and keep your damn eyes open.  I’ll even give you a hint: pay attention to the use of colors in different characters’ wardrobes in any given scene.  Especially pay attention to blues, greens and yellows – really, pastels in general.  They’re there – often subtle, but they’re definitely there.  The harmony exists, even when you don’t think it’s there.  It draws them together, it drives them apart, and it tells the story well enough that you could maybe watch the movie with the sound off and still get it.

Look, I’m aware of the ridiculousness of this situation.  A nearly 30-year-old man telling you to spend your evening watching Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap?  Come on now.  But I’m serious.  This is one of those movies, that if you go into it with an open mind (and, who am I kidding, an open heart, too), it’s going to surprise you.  Lindsay Lohan nails it, the supporting cast is phenomenal, the music takes you by surprise, and the costuming is just ace.

I know it’s ridiculous, but:

Go watch The Parent Trap ’98, right now.  Go.  It’s on Netflix, what are you waiting for?

You’re welcome.

Side notes:

– 1961 for the original, 1998 for the remake. 37 years interim. RESEARCH, DAMMIT.

– My wife disagrees, but I thought that when Dennis Quaid smiles and so easily says “Them.” at the conclusion of the camping trip was just so fucking perfect.  Like, of course he’s gonna choose his daughters over your skinny ass, you daffy, greedy broad.  He’s Dennis Quaid.  He’s the best.

– Wait, what happened to Meredith’s assistant?  I think his name was Gareth.  He was in that one scene where Meredith openly villain-monologues, in front of Dennis Quaid and Lindsay, how much she hates Linsday, and they both share an evil laugh together.  He wasn’t in the movie before or after that.  Where the fuck did that guy go?

– Apparently the final “actually” count is 23. 23! Jesus hell.

– Look, I know it was probably just two little people in masks wearing red wigs, but the choreography on that fencing match was thrilling. You know I’m right.

– Every grandpa in the world should smell like peppermint and pipe tobacco.

Matthew Lyons is a writer living in New York City with his wife, where he works in corporate advertising to support his pathologically unsafe spending and drinking habits. Most recently, his mad, whiskey-fueled ramblings have appeared in Maudlin House and Bastion Science Fiction Magazine. He is unquestionably a danger to himself, others, and his marriage, and he must be stopped at all costs. Join in the fight against this monster at twitter.com/goddamnlyons

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