The Parent Trap is one of those films that felt a bit young for me when I first saw it. Being eleven in 1998, I probably didn’t see it until it was out of the pictures, and back then it took films about a million years before they were released on video. Still, I had a cousin that loved it, and so I must have seen it a fair few times. I remembered next to nothing about it, aside from the basic plot, and that bit where they go camping and Dennis Quaid’s girlfriend full on channels Willie Scott, screaming at anything that moves. Hilarity! Revisiting it some 12 years later feels like a long overdue hangover from the early noughties, where Hollywood was still trying to cling onto that outdated notion that parents should be ‘together forever’. It’s just embarrassing really, and in the end actually comes across as being exceptionally creepy.
The film does have one thing going for it: Lindsay Lohan. It was only when I was a bit older that I learned that she played both of the identical twins, which still blows my mind even today, if I’m being honest. BUT BUT BUT they’re… she is… on the screen at the same time as herself and she’s both English and American?? How can this be?! She’s like some kind of perfect demon child; she makes Dakota Fanning look like Rob Schneider in comparison. ‘So you played against Robert De Niro, and acted Tom Cruise off the screen? Aye whatever, try acting against yourself next time, bitch.’ FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT! …Anyway, child on child violence fantasies aside, she’s pretty much the only thing worth watching this film for. That, and maybe Dennis Quaid: because hey, it’s fucking Dennis Quaid.
But first, let me outline the monumentally stupid plot for you. Two identical twins are separated at birth by their exceptionally weird parents, with one (Annie) going to London to live with her mother, and the other (Hallie) living in California with her Dad. Both of them are disgustingly rich: Hallie lives in a huge picturesque mansion in the middle of a vineyard, and Annie in a gorgeous house in the middle of London. Somehow, they meet again eleven years later at one of those American summer Camps. You know the sort: where white people teach white kids about Native Americans and generally shit all over their cultural heritage. Those ones. After some hilarity ensues, mainly at Annie’s expense (because she’s British and that’s just weird, right?) , they realise that they’re actually related to each other.
Their parents were sick bastards, essentially. They gave each of their children half a photo, with each half showing their respective absent parent, and a locket with each other’s names inside. If this had happened to a couple of normal kids, the social services would have been involved. But it’s okay, because they’re stinking rich; and rich people know how to take care of their kids. Obviously.
Anyway, so the two little shits concoct a scheme where they switch places, so they can meet their absent parents and force them to get back together. And I mean force. It is called The Parent Trap, after all. So, brainwashed by a society that reinforces ideas of family and the sanctity of marriage, they decide that their parents just have to get back together. It’s quite gut-wrenchingly sad, really, and would make for a great satirical horror if it weren’t a family film directed by Nancy ‘talent vacuum’ Meyers.
90s American family films do love the fairytale idea of broken families being reunited again, something that used to bug me as a kid no end. As a child whose parents broke up when I was fairly young, I despised any film that portrayed parents getting back together. The end of Liar Liar was one which continually bugged me for that very reason, whereas I always loved Mrs. Doubtfire for explaining that sometimes they don’t get back together, and that’s fine. The message that The Parent Trap sets out is thus: your parents split up for unimportant reasons, what matters more is that you make them realise what idiots they are and force them back into an uncomfortable, loveless marriage. In some of the films most terrifying scenes, the twins actually spy on their Mam and Dad to make sure that they’re falling for each other again. It’s just one step away from locking them up and forcing them to have sex, while the kids look on in glee. Harrowing stuff.
If creepy Christian moralising ain’t your thing, then there’s plenty to enjoy elsewhere, including (joy of joys) plenty of slightly offensive English stereotypes. Oh, the English, they’re all a bit weird aren’t they? With their butlers and their tea and pipe tobacco. Ho ho ho, hee hee hee. They know nothing about popular culture! ‘Look, here’s a picture of Leonardo Dicaprio, he’s a hottie.’ ‘Oh, gosh, who is that? We don’t watch films over here, we’re too busy baking scones and going for afternoon tea.’ The film would have been much more entertaining had Hallie swapped with her sister to find herself in some greater Manchester council estate ‘Oh so you’re 12 now? Here’s a 2 litre bottle of our country’s finest cider, I hear that the park is a marvellous place for young women to hang out! Take the butler with you, darling.’
So, in conclusion: Lindsay Lohan was a demon, Dennis Quaid is still kind of awesome despite his often horrific filmography, and The Parent Trap is hideously outdated nonsense. And 14 years on, we are still subjected to Nancy Meyer films. Will somebody please, please, PLEASE make her stop. For the love of God.