I keep wanting to continue my weekly hat tip to films I love, but somehow Friday rolls around, and it's late and I'm tired... and well, I have to break the habit.
I know it's totally uncool, but I still have some residual affection for the mess that Lindsay Lohan has become. I still hope (against ever decreasing hope) that she can pull it together, and prove herself, yet again, as the promising talent we once saw. Some people have come back from worse... but not many, and every passing day suggests that this story will not end well.
The Parent Trap is one of those movies that seems impossible (and unneeded) to remake. When Hayley Mills played identical twins, sisters separated at birth, it was an impressive feat, all the more impressive for such a young actress. Who could match that?
I didn't see Lohan's version until probably a year later, on cable. At first it felt like a lark, but then I found myself paying attention, especially to the details of Lohan's twins. And eventually, I found myself actually making the effort to see her version not just in bits and pieces, but all the way from start to finish.
Like the original, Lohan plays twins separated as babies by their parents' messy divorce. One is raised in Napa by her wine making father, the other in London by her dress designing mother. The girls "accidentally" meet at summer camp, and gradually realize they are sisters. And then the fun begins.
First the sisters switch places, so that they can meet their missing parent. Here's where Lohan shines, managing the neat trick of both the prim Brit who's dying to know her father, and the boundless openness of the American girl who longs to have her Mom back in her life. Lohan is helped immensely by both Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson, and their own sweetly conflicted feelings.
Eventually, the two are found out, leading to the third act minor conflict where the two have to unite to remove the one obstacle to their parent's reconciliation, a manipulative woman insinuating her way into dad's life.
Director Nancy Meyers apparently picked this project to help her daughters work through their own feelings, after Meyers divorced director Charles Shyer, after years together as writing and directing partners; Lohan's characters are named Annie and Hallie, the names of their daughters, and both girls have small roles in the film. Meyers is a natural for the material, giving it just the right mix of fairy tale perfection touched with real world possibilities. The supporting cast is charming without veering into overly cutesy. Quaid and Richardson are immensely appealing.
But the real find of this project was clearly Lohan, wise beyond her years, creating two surprisingly distinct characters, who nevertheless are identical twins. It's a real feat when you can, with just a look, or the quaver of a voice, realize that one twin is playing the other, without Lohan breaking character or seeming false to either role. It's this film, I'm sure, that made much of Hollywood sit up and take notice. In the world of Disney's tweens, Lohan made most of the others seem instantly irrelevant. Which is why she quickly moved on to a Freaky Friday remake as well.
Of course, we know now what we didn't know then: that Lohan's wisdom beyond her years was hard and painfully won, and the damaged girl who could pretend so well for the cameras couldn't fake it in real life. I get it... she's a mess. But watch The Parent Trap (or even her Freaky Friday), and then tell me again how her life is a joke, even a sad joke. To me... it's nothing short of a tragedy. And one that, sadly, may never be solved. That's not funny, it's a goddamn shame.