The Parent Trap
Posted by martinteller on September 19, 2014
[WARNING: this review contains spoilers about the ending that aren’t very specific but you’d probably figure out how this all ends up anyway]
Sometimes I just don’t know how to get into a review. Do I break the movie down into different elements, plot/themes/performances/visuals? Do I separate the negatives from the positives? Do I approach it in a roundabout way, perhaps segueing into it from some personal anecdote? Sometimes nothing feels right. When that happens, I’m inclined to throw structure out the window and just try to hit all the points I wanted to make.
The movie was in one sense exactly what I feared it would be: a reinforcing of the nuclear family, with mommy and daddy reunited and no more of that icky divorce. This is Disney, after all, and “family values” are to be expected. Still, I held on to some hope that Mitch and Maggie would say “Kids, we broke up for a reason, we’re not good together” and they would work something out that would be agreeable for everyone. I mean, you can see signs of domestic abuse. Was Mitch a battered husband? Maybe getting them back together isn’t the best thing. At least the movie ends on a mildly ambiguous note that allows the possibility that they actually didn’t get back together, but who are we kidding? Of course they did.
In another sense, the movie wasn’t at all what I feared: an annoying series of Hayley Mills shenanigans and zany slapstick. There is some of that, to be sure. Pratfalls happen, and you better believe they’re accompanied by wacky trombones. But it isn’t just one scene after another of Susan/Sharon pulling pranks and dragging out their deception. The story keeps evolving, not drawing out any scenario for too long. It doesn’t get tedious, and it isn’t all centered around the twins. Some of the best scenes don’t even have Mills in them.
This was my first experience with Hayley Mills, although it’s possible I saw her on “The Love Boat” way back in the day. She’s not great, but she’s not that bad either. I found it funny that no attempt was made to either disguise or explain her British accent. It just is what it is. She’s also a lousy singer, but I’m glad they let her sing “Let’s Get Together” without overdubbing someone else. It makes that scene a cute, heartfelt thing that they’re doing for their parents, not just a production number to keep the audience entertained.
I didn’t know that Hayley is the daughter of the great John Mills, who is so excellent, particularly in his work with David Lean and Anthony Asquith. Also the sister of Juliet Mills, who I only know from Avanti!, where she is insanely presented as drastically overweight despite being of perfectly average build.
The split-screen and body doubles are used quite effectively. Mills must have been directed with some precision, because there are few if any instances of awkward timing in her conversations with herself. The illusion holds up really well. There is some atrocious rear projection, though that’s rather commonplace for the era.
Although tame by almost any other standard, it’s surprisingly suggestive for a Disney film, both in the sexuality between the adults and the hints of oncoming puberty.
I ought to round up the supporting cast here. I’m on record as not being a fan of Maureen O’Hara, but I have to say she didn’t bother me at all here. She didn’t set my world on fire or anything, but she’s got a spark that I don’t usually see in her. Brian Keith — a guy I recognize from noir as a solid performer — handles the comedy very well, and comes off like a very charming father indeed. Always a hoot to see Nancy Kulp pop in something that isn’t “The Beverly Hillbillies”, and great character actors Una Merkel and Leo G. Carroll are just as delightful as you’d expect them to be (Carroll especially, playing a priest you’d be happy to hang out with).
Overall I found this pretty enjoyable. I would have preferred a less conservative take on the family, but it’s not that dogmatic about it. Rating: Good (76)