The Parent Trap (1998)

The Parent Trap (1998)Synopsis: What if you spent your whole life wishing for something you didn’t know you already had? Hallie Parker and Annie James are about to find out.

Hallie is a cool girl from California. Annie is a fair rose from London. When the two accidentally meet at summer camp, they think they have nothing in common except…they’re identical twins now they’re up to their freckles in schemes and dreams to switch places, get their parents back together and have the family they’ve always wished for!

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The Parent Trap (1998) 6.75

eyelights: Lindsay Lohan. the quality of the production.
eyesores: the exaggerated performances. its TV movie vibe. its shmaltzy score.

“Oh, don’t do this to me. I’m already seeing double.”

You may not remember this, but there was a time when movies were based on original ideas instead of rehashing formerly successful ones. One could argue that Hollywood has been stealing from books since day one, or that hit movies inevitably generated sequels. And that remakes of older films are hardly a new phenomenon.

All of that would be true, however, never has Hollywood dabbled in remaking its money-making properties as much as it has in the last twenty years. Creative bankruptcy, critics will say. But the reality is that the seventies have changed the game, with movies becoming more and more dependent on opening weekend to make a profit.

This means that motion pictures can no longer afford to depend on word-of-mouth to succeed, hoping that it will eventually find its audience and make its money back. A movie needs to have reached its intended audience before it’s even in cinemas. This means mass marketing them so that potential audiences are made aware of it.

It also means making them as accessible as possible, so as to have the broadest possible appeal. And nothing is more appealing than the familiar, the comfort food. When people want to have a good time, most people go for the tried and true – they want something that will ensure satisfaction. They don’t want to gamble on the unknown.

Hence the remake.

A remake immediately brings to mind past experiences (ideally good ones), which the producers hope audience will want to relive. It is also the easiest thing to market (next to a movie based on another popular property, like a book or television show) because little explanation is required to get people interested.

However, with home video, people can stay at home to revisit their old favourites. Re-releasing them in cinemas (something that was frequently done prior to the VHS tape) is a moot point because few people will care if they see it on the silver screen. So producers have to make a whole new version to get them out of their homes.

Further to that, a hit remake is a double whammy, because it gets audiences interested in seeing the old version again. Or it makes them familiar with something that was before their time, or that they never got a chance to see. This means that the remake can generate money at the box office and with home video sales of the original.

Nostalgia is a cash cow. Why wouldn’t they milk it?

This leads me to Nancy Meyers’ version of ‘The Parent Trap‘, which was released in 1998. This was Meyers’ directorial debut, after nearly two decades writing and producing romantic comedies, including the remake of ‘Father of the Bride‘, and its sequel, both extremely profitable pictures. For her first, Meyers naturally chose a safe bet.

‘The Parent Trap’ was her most successful picture yet, making over 90 million dollars on a 15 million dollar budget. It also introduced the world to Lindsay Lohan, who would, for the next few years, be a rising star both on the silver screen and as a pop music artist, with two hit albums to her name. Well, we all know where that ended up.

But Lohan is inarguably the only real reason to bother with this motion picture. Then fresh and vibrant, one immediately takes a liking to her sparkling personality; she is utterly adorable to watch, even as she overplays many of her scenes in the exact same way that all Hollywood creations do. This is not a real child we’re watching.

In all fairness, however, the whole cast overplays their parts to some degree; ‘The Parent Trap’ is not a subtle comedy. From its shmaltzy orchestral arrangements designed to pull on the heart strings, to the stupid gags (ex: little girls drag a whole cabin’s furniture onto the roof!), all the way to the fake ending, it’s anything but.

In truth, this version of the tale feels more like a low-budget television movie made on a big budget. It has that cheesy, artificial flavour that one gets from filmmakers who don’t know any better (and, thus, haven’t made the big time yet). Or from a feel-good industry that is desperate to cater to the lowest common denominator.

There’s no artistic merit or class in this picture. That’s not what it’s about. In fact, one wonders if the filmmakers even considered what they were doing at all when they put ‘The Parent Trap’ together. Were they making it for kids? Or were they making it for the kids who saw the original in 1961 and are now middle-aged adults?

You see, some of the humour is definitely questionable when one considers a pre-teen audience.

Firstly, there’s the overabundant use and or reference to alcohol. The father (played with Nicholson-esque grin by Dennis Quaid) is a viticulturist. This makes for a gorgeous setting which is only really of interest to adults. It also means that wine is discussed regularly, and it is drunk regularly. As are martinis, for some reason.

Given the number of career choices the father could have had, this is absolutely unnecessary. It merely normalizes alcohol in the lives of pre-teen kids. Some might say that there’s no harm in that, but I argue that they’ll have plenty of time to make up for it later. One might then argue that showing the responsible use of alcohol is a good thing.

Fine. Except that they have the mother offer Lohan’s character, Hallie, a sip of wine at the dinner table, after which Hallie professionally assesses its bouquet. This is meant to be cute and, thus, funny, but it only makes alcohol “fun”. For a pre-teen, this is a poor message. Further to that, the mother later gets drunk on the way to America.

With her daughter in tow. Yes, this is also meant to be funny. The notion that being drunk is supposed to be funny is yet another poor message to send pre-teens. Cementing the notion that it’s acceptable is a comment that the butler later makes to the couple, suggesting that they imbibe so they are too toasted to fire him and the nanny.

Hilarious.

Another questionable choice by the filmmakers is the notion that both Hallie and Annie would be exceptional poker players and that they should gamble with the other girls. Yes, kids, gambling is fun. Forget the fact that it can get out of hand and that it’s a growing problems in our society. You aren’t old enough to know about such things.

Enjoy it while you can.

To ingrain the notion that gambling is cool, and (let’s not forget) endearing and funny, the filmmakers chose to back the sequence to the the tune of -you guess it- George Thorogood and The Destroyers’ “Bad to the Bone”. They also have the kids force the losers to skinny dip at night, and teach them to pierce their own ears.

Yes, this is responsible filmmaking.

And then one wonders why the kids that get processed though the Disney-factory frequently end up messed up. It’s not just that they’re suffering growing pains in the public eye, it’s that they’re given mixed messages about what is healthy and what isn’t. And that likely translates to the kids who watch and idolize them as well.

‘The Parent Trap’ is really just product without a brain. It subjects audience to sentimental and “fun” montages, pairs up the parents, the help and the daughters, all the while reviling the fiancé who did nothing noticeably wrong. It’s a pro-family movie with a warped sense of family values, and even a cute Lindsay Lohan couldn’t save it.

Parents… this movie is a trap. Don’t sit your kids in front of it. Instead, stick with the original; for all its flaws it’s a better movie on more levels than you could ever imagine. While it may be dated and perhaps a bit cutesy by the standards of today’s more cynical audience, at least it can do very little else but entertain you and your kids.

Which, ultimately, is what you wanted in the first place.

Dates of viewings: May 14-15, 2015

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