The Parent Trap (1998) Review

Time for the first “old movie review” with a look back at 1998’s child-friendly, rom-com; The Parent Trap

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First things first; I have never seen this movie before. I tell you this so that you understand that no nostalgia value whatsoever has gone into this review. I should also say that I’m not a huge fan of most kid’s movies since the early nineties when I was at the right age to watch them, however, I’m going to try and give this film a fair shot and see what I can come up with in the way of a balanced review.

So, we are thrown into the action with a flash-back to a dream wedding aboard the QEII, which we are lead to understand did not last after the birth of twin daughters, one of each went with either parent and there has been no contact since. The story itself really starts with the “11 years later” caption as we are introduced to Hallie (Lindsay Lohan) arriving at Camp Walden by bus. She is the typical all-american child, happy, friendly and instantly at ease with those around her. Then a limo turns up carrying Annie (also Lindsay Lohan) who for reasons that remain unexplained for the entire film has been sent all the way from London to an American summer camp for girls in Maine. The scene is set for the twins, who clearly have no knowledge of one another to finally come face to face. When this does happen it provides the first real humour of the film, Lohan managing to make both twins distinct by way of attitude and varying British and US accents. There are enough shots of the two on screen together, which have held up remarkably well given the almost twenty years since this film was made, that you don’t have to work hard to believe that there are two Lindsay Lohans acting opposite one another. Eventually the twins team up and decide that they want to meet the opposite parent and use the rest of the summer camp to train each other to pass as their doppelganger and resume one another’s lives without raising suspicion. Again this provides ample opportunities for humour as they try to fit into one another’s lives with parents they’ve never met before, and so the movie continues from there on in.

It is often a strange experience to look back on films that show actors at the beginning of their career. The light that hindsight casts can be an unflattering one, but sometimes it can also show things that are long forgotten. In this case you are reminded of why Lindsay Lohan was set to take Hollywood by storm. In this film there is something very reminiscent of Macaulay Culkin’s performance in “Home Alone” to what Lindsay gives us in both of her roles on screen. She clearly has that indefinable something that puts actors in the “star” category. In the last seventeen years Lindsay Lohan has gone from being called the next big thing to being a caricature of herself as she has lurched from one very public problem to another, with various stops in rehab punctuating her film career as it unfortunately appears to be collapsing on itself. Watching this film for the first time it is easy to see what everyone was excited about. For an eleven year old Lohan is positively subtle in this film. Although the script is not exactly oscar-worthy and she is not called upon to do a truly heavy amount of acting, she has enough charisma and talent to be able to keep the audience’s attention and basically carry the whole movie on her own. Most child actors have a tendency to come across as either annoying and overly precocious, or unable to hold their own with the adults around them, so the surprise-factor that Lohan carries in the sense that she is neither of these is a big help to this film.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said of most of the adult cast, most of whom are little more than caricatures designed to fill out the surprisingly the long run time of the film. Dennis Quaid as the father of the twins, Nick Parker, comes across as singularly unsympathetic for a lot of the film, as it is hinted at that he basically decided to end the relationship for reasons that are pretty well glossed over. It is only his obvious chemistry with Natasha Richardson, who takes up the role of the girl’s mother, Elizabeth James, that really saves him from being a complete flop. Richardson is given a little more of an opportunity to emote and also flex her comedic chops, though not by much. She, like Quaid, is little more than a mcguffin for the twins to work on as they continue to drive the plot forward by trying to get them back together after first meeting them and their life-swap being discovered. The main problem with both characters is that on a basic level they are incredibly un-relatable; Nick being a rich wine-maker and Elizabeth being a world-renowned wedding dress designer. Neither of these people have any problems other than the fact that they got married to the wrong person and had kids, and even that hasn’t caused an issue for the last eleven years as they were clearly happy before this sequence of events kick off. This really is a story about the self-created problems of rich white folk who are basically one step away from a perfect life, if only they could sort out this one niggling relationship problem, and that left me feeling a little cold at times. That being said there were moments of real sweetness between the parents and the girls when they were reunited in various combinations, which I put mostly down to Lohan not over-doing these scenes. Unfortunately the same feeling was evoked a good four or five times throughout the run-time, so it started to lose its impact towards the end of the film.

The only adult who really gets to do more than fill in the background whilst Lohan commands the screen is Elaine Hendrix who plays Nick’s new gold-digging girlfriend, Meredith Blake. She at least gets to ham it up a little whilst trying to alternately get the girls to like her, or get them out of her way. Clearly she is having a whale of a time playing the bad-guy, but she isn’t really given more than “be greedy” to work with, so her scenes rarely push the film above slightly amusing. Then there are the two family helpers, who are purely there for comedy support, and aside from Lohan in her combined roles, get most of the funniest moments. Martin, the mother’s butler (Simon Kunz) provides the overly-camp funny man, whilst Chessy (Lisa Ann Walter), the father’s live-in housekeeper (both a reminder of how rich and un-troubled the main cast’s lives have been up until this point), is the slightly more down to earth, but very perceptive one. The thing that really stopped me from engaging with them both as much as I was clearly meant to is the fact that they are both obviously better parents for the girls than their mother and father are. Both of them appear to be the primary care-giver to their respective Lohan and both of them clearly adore the girl that is in their charge, so it feels a little unlikely when they step back and just allow the parents, who so far have pretty much failed as parents, to try and rekindle their relationship. I may be reading a little too much into a children’s movie at this point, but an extra scene showing a little tension about losing the child that they have basically raised would have been a nice addition, rather than just sitting back and cracking jokes about the situation.

Speaking of extra scenes, we come to the length of this film, which is significantly longer than I would have expected coming in as it does at one hundred and twenty eight minutes. This is an incredibly long time to stay with this story, and there is a point about two thirds of the way through when the plot appears to be wrapping up, but then they launch into a brand-new direction. It feels a little like the writers got to the natural ending and were told that the studio wanted a specific finish to the film, which didn’t match up with where they were at the time. This means that the last third of the movie feels as though it has been tacked on, possibly from the beginning of a sequel. Not only does this mean that the film feels overlong, but it also means that the film can feel quite aimless at times and what plot there is is stretched to breaking point. It also means that when the end credits finally rolled I was more than glad to see them. The real problem here is that there just isn’t enough humour to keep the plot rolling along. If they had been a little harsher in the editing suite and cut this film down by half an hour I suspect it would have been a lot tighter plot-wise and there would be more than enough laughs to make the movie fun throughout.

So, what do we have here? Well, without the benefit of having seen it when I was younger, I would say that it is the framework of a classic children’s movie with an entertaining and charismatic young star at the beginning of a promising career that is let down by being over-long and not being as funny as it thinks it is. Its certainly not the worst thing you could watch if its on the telly, but, without any nostalgia attached to it, I don’t think it’ll be a go to classic for many.

 

Rating:

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Two Moons out of Five. Not great.

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