Mar 2, 2015

Another Coming of Age Movie Month: Day 1

I enjoyed last year's coming of age movie month so much, and still have so many films to work through, that I decided to do it again.  Every day in March will bring at least one new coming of age movie to watch and review.  I started out with a special double bill...

The Parent Trap ['61/'98]
Dir: David Swift / Nancy Meyers

I had planned to review these films separately, but having watched them back to back I struggle to see the point, so frequently are they identical that I'd be repeating myself as often as their respective screenplays do.

Both versions are about two girls (in the 1961 version Susan and Sharon, played by Hayley Mills and in the 1998 version Annie and Hallie, played by Lindsay Lohan) who meet at summer camp.  Initially they dislike each other but they discover that not only do they have more in common than their uncanny resemblance, they are long lost twins.  Years ago their parents divorced and each has been raised by one parent, without knowing about their sister.  They decide to swap places and contrive to have their parents fall back in love.

Neither version is especially sophisticated, but both have a level of charm,  This surprises me because, when you consider the setup, almost everyone in both of the films is an asshole.  The parents are worst.  Yes in both versions the mother (Maureen O'Hara / Natasha Richardson) is radiantly pretty and oh so perfect, but come on, for the last 11 years she's apparently been content to only see one of her two children and not even told her other daughter that she has a sister, let alone allowed the twins to know each other.  Even in 1961 I'm not sure how this was considered okay.  Dad (Brian Keith / Dennis Quaid), because these are Disney films, is comfortably off and loves his daughter, but he's a workaholic and doesn't have enough time for her.  Also he's marrying a younger woman (who is, of course, an insufferable gold digging bitch, played first by Joanna Barnes, then Elaine Hendrix), which is the most horrible crime he could commit in a Disney film.

It's easy to understand why the twins want to switch places and get their parents back together; they've been deprived of a complete family in a pretty awful way.  On the other hand, they too are basically assholes, setting out ruin their father's new relationship even before they know that his new fianc√© is as awful as she is.  On the whole, it's not easy to like any of these people or to get behind their goals.

However, both films are rescued, to some degree, by their young star.  Hayley Mills does a solid job with the original film, even though unsophisticated effects can make the join between her dual performances seem obvious, however, this is also where the remake scores over the original.  It is a terrible shame what has happened to Lindsay Lohan.  Did drugs rob us of an all time great actress in her?  No, clearly not, but looking at many of her earlier performances shows someone with an underestimated talent and a great deal of charm.  She shows both here, drawing distinctions between Hallie and Annie that go beyond Annie's English accent.  She's funny when she needs to be and plays the dramatic scenes - broad as they can be - well, always ensuring that there are cues to draw out the differences between the twins.

Both films are colossally overlong (129 and 127 minutes respectively) and both lose steam as the Polt-O-Matic clanks its way into the third act, but at least the remake makes some attempt at showing the twins parents addressing the problems that made them break up before the inevitable happens, while Lohan keeps the energy from flagging as badly as in the original versiopn.  Neither is a classic, but this is one of the few cases of a remake improving on its source, and the 1998 version has held up well.  It's a fun kids movie, which is all you can ask of it.
1961:   1998: 

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