The Parent Trap

(Nancy Meyers, USA, 1998)


Those with fond mid '60s television memories of The Patty Duke Show and The Wonderful World of Disney know how comedies concerning precocious twins used to be constructed – with a line down the middle of the screen and a handy bunch of concealing tricks so that the one actor could gamely pretend to be two people at once.

The technical clunkiness of such films and television shows now seems quaintly endearing. In this modern remake of The Parent Trap (1961), Hayley Mills' job is taken by perky Lindsay Lohan – still just one actor, but now the digital doubling of her performance is seamless.

As in It Takes Two (1995), which used real twins, much of the humour in The Parent Trap comes from the spectacle of two young girls representing stark differences in social class, attitudes and manners. Hallie, brought up by her father Nick (Dennis Quaid), is a no-nonsense American. Annie, raised by her mother Elizabeth (Natasha Richardson), is a sophisticated princess of the London fashion world. Both, however, are skilful manipulators of adults.

When Annie and Hallie inadvertently meet at a summer camp and realise that they are identical twins separated at birth, they go into overdrive with a plan to re-unite their estranged parents. In a way, this "dysfunctional family" premise works even better than it did 37 years ago, because it is so much more a part of our mundane reality.

The Parent Trap preys shamelessly on the teary wishes of child and adult spectators alike to see this cute, glamorous family unit pieced back together. Director Nancy Meyers – collaborator with Charles Shyer on such colourful hits as Baby Boom (1987) and Father of the Bride (1991) – displays a fine flair for light comedy, especially when it involves the most deliciously superficial aspects of life.

Even though Nick's money-mad fiancée Meredith (Elaine Hendrix) is for all intents and purposes the villain of the piece, Meyer's sensibility ensures that she retains a semblance of dignity – as she scrambles noisily over rocks in her high heels and inappropriate evening wear. This modestly entertaining family film is full of such pleasing touches, my favourite being when Meredith appeals to her campy butler Martin (Simon Kunz): "We don't think of you as a servant, more a lovable brother who waits on us."

MORE Meyers: Something's Gotta Give

© Adrian Martin September 1998

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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