Today, Annie and Hallie of The Parent Trap would be celebrating their 32nd birthday. In the universe in which the 1998 version of The Parent Trap takes place, the twins would likely be at one of their parents’ vast estates for a birthday bash, sipping lemonade brought to them by their smiling, ever-pleasant help. But if The Parent Trap took place in the real world, where disastrous child custody schemes impart lasting emotional wounds, Hallie Parker and Annie James would be on the phone with their therapists, biting their nails to the cuticle, and wondering how, how, how did their parents let this happen?
There are so many “hows” for Annie and Hallie to ponder.
How did Elizabeth James (Natasha Richardson) and Nick Parker (Dennis Quaid) decide that separating their identical twins was a smart or fair decision, even if it suited their transatlantic living locations? How much did they bribe the judge to sign off on this ill-advised custody arrangement? How convenient was it that Elizabeth had twins, so each parent could take a souvenir home from their little romp on the QE2? How did they manipulate Chessy and Martin into keeping their mouths shut for the twins’ entire childhoods? How did they not feel guilty for depriving their daughters of a sister? How did they not pick up the phone sometimes at night, when they were lonely single parents, and ask the other one how it was going?
Take a deep breath, and let’s keep going.
How did they happen to send the girls to the same summer camp? How did they both raise their daughters to be poker-playing fencers who could stand up to adults with a fierce precociousness? How did neither Elizabeth nor Nick recognise that the child who came home was not their Annie, or not their Hallie? How did they avoid building up walls of resentment during their 11-year separation, and reunite with such effortless joy? And, most perplexingly, how did it take two pre-teens’ scheming to get Elizabeth and Nick to communicate?
“Now that we have time to talk, maybe we can talk about what happened between us. It’s all a little hazy now,” Nick says to Elizabeth, as if talking and reflecting over shared experiences were a novel idea, and not something that co-parents do every day.
This isn’t to knock The Parent Trap, which, despite its logical hiccups, remains a delightfully enjoyable movie. It’s just acknowledgement of the how the experience of a movie changes as more years (and wisdom) accumulate in your noggin. There’s a vast distance between between the kid I once was, who thought Annie and Hallie pulled off one helluva triumph, and the adult I am now, who realises the horror of what Annie and Hallie’s parents did to them in the name of independence.
Eventually, we grow up. We stop believing in Santa Claus. And today, the day of Annie and Hallie’s birthday, you might stop believing in The Parent Trap. The Parent Trap is hailed as an uplifting family comedy, but from a different angle, it could be a wrenching drama of the how two parents coldly and systematically separated their children.
Luckily, The Parent Trap exists firmly in a joyful Nancy Meyers universe, where everyone gets what they want, and at a time that’s convenient. Over the past decade, Elizabeth and Nick became a wildly successful wedding dress designer and the owner of a wine empire, respectively. Now that they've built their careers and been "selfish," they’re ready to be together. The girls got the ultimate gift: A partner in crime. Everybody wins.
But for the sake of reason, let’s imagine that somewhere, some time away from their employers, Chessy and Martin could exhale and let out, at last, how terribly this all could have gone in a different world.
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