Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Lovefest '07: #8. It's Absolutely Revolting!

Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap (1961) as Sharon as Susan

Hayley Mills' tour de force comedic performance in The Parent Trap requires the 14-year-old to not only play thoroughly delineated twin sisters, but for a brief midsection, to play the girls impersonating one another. In this scene she does both. Boston-raised Sharon-as-Susan first calmly dupes her dad as he bumblingly attempts a heart-to-heart, then loses her cool when he says he's going to propose to his hateful new girlfriend. Exploding Kinetoscope favorite Brian Keith is great throughout, but here he gives his funniest 4-minute fluster: his Mitch Evers is a big, burly rancher completely undone by a young girl's cool judgement and her unleashed temper.

Sharon plops down at the piano and plays Chopin's "Nocturne in E Flat", half-ignoring her father's speech, sending the signal that his silly stuttering is beneath her interest, but keeping her back to Keith lets Mills dart her baby blues nervously around the room in counterpoint to her confident piano playing. Sharon's method of indicating her nonchalance almost backfires when Mitch realizes that his Susan does not play piano, and Sharon covers her tracks hilariously, by hunching over the keyboard and plinking out "Chopsticks". She doesn't miss a beat, either, as she turns her dad's self-effacement on him, by explaining he's far to old to be dating his 30-something fiance, mere seconds after he's nearly said it himself. The scene is all about Sharon's acting and improv skills, and powers of behavioral observation, and how quickly she can weave and dart about her father's arguments and steer him where she wants. The scrawny kid has to waltz with Brian Keith, for if Mills weren't playing it with precise body language, if we couldn't see the wheels turning in Susan's head, the scene wouldn't work. And it wouldn't be funny.

The argument escalates, and in the final beat, Mills does some prop work both cute and ingenious. Sharon swipes a throw pillow up from the sofa, as she becomes desperate to talk Mitch out of his engagement. She clutches the pillow to her chest as she pleads, flails it about in anger, and yanks it away from her dad when he tries to take it for fear of being smacked. Finally, when Sharon completely blows her stack and breaks "character", she becomes so frustrated that she can't express it verbally or physically, and Mitch doesn't even understand what she's talking about. To portray this meltdown, Mills stomps to the back of the room and, well, just starts poking random pieces of the set decoration with the pillow. There's a split second that gets me every time, in which it's clear that the screenplay has provided less of Sharon's scripted rant than necessary, so Mills begins ad libbing a furious monologue as her befuddled dad wanders out of the room.

SHARON: All right. I'm not screaming. I want to talk about this perfectly calmly and rationally... YOU CAN'T GET MARRIED, YOU'LL RUIN EVERYTHING! All the plans we made! The working, and scheming, the diagrams!

MITCH: What are you talking about?

SHARON: And my hair! Look at my hair! I cut it just for you! And my fingernails! I've bitten them all up because of you! Of all the thick-headed fathers! (Ed.: here the script has clearly run out) For days and works and weeks! Nothing! Nothing but work and -- and boys and... names and hair! Oh!

Boys and names and hair? If you've ever forgotten it: the kid was a natural.


Anonymous said...


I was actually watchin' the Nancy Meyers-Hohan collaboration a few months ago, and while it was decent (especially for a Nancy Meyers film!), I could not help but feel nostalgic for Hayley Mills.

On a less generous note: Have you ever seen The Parent Trap II, III, and IV on Disney Channel before? (Hint: Don't. I know Ms. Mills wanted to pay some bills, and so made-for-TV movies weren't outta the equation, but...)

Chris Stangl said...

The PARENT TRAP sequels are dire indeed, but Mills is still fun. Looking at her career on the whole, I don't know why she stopped taking or receiving work as a light comedienne, as it's definitely her strong suite. I love THAT DARN CAT!, too, but she basically has the straight-man role.