This article is part of our Villains Week series.
Meredith Blake, the prospective stepmother in 1998’s The Parent Trap, is a character deserving of more sympathy than her movie would seem to allow. In addition to having an amazing fashion sense, she is determined and relatable, especially when viewed from a modern feminist perspective. She is worth rooting for in a film that villainizes her for expressing femininity and using her sexuality to pursue her goals.
The Disney remake, based on the 1961 movie of the same name, begins with the unplanned meeting of long-lost twins Hallie and Annie (both played by Lindsay Lohan). Their parents (Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson) separated them at birth and never even mentioned the other’s existence. The plot then follows the sisters’ conniving attempts to get their divorced parents back together by switching places and posing as each other.
Besides their immense geographic distance (one of the twins and her respective parent resides in California, the other in London) and the fact that Mom and Dad went their separate ways 11 years ago for a reason, the greatest obstacle in the way of the girls’ family reunion scheme is Meredith (Elaine Hendrix), the 26-year-old publicist whom their father inopportunely fell in love with and became engaged to over the summer.
While Meredith’s pursuit of the twins’ dad, Nick, is at least partially based on his Napa Valley winery wealth, her desires and actions are understandable compared to the questionable logic of the parents and the ridiculous plotting of their children. At the end of the day, Meredith is vilified for being a young, pretty, and driven woman who goes after what she wants and doesn’t put up with manipulative tweens.
A key reason the audience is supposed to dislike Meredith is that she is highly feminine and concerned with her appearance. When her presence is first revealed, it is only through glimpses of her body, with her face continually blocked. The film goes so far as to show her through the viewfinder of Annie’s camera as she secretly watches Nick and Meredith interact. The cinematographic mode she’s introduced in immediately sets up her appearance as a defining feature of her character and diminishes her individuality and identity.
While Annie (posing as Hallie) creepily watches her dad’s fiancee, Chessie (Lisa Ann Walter), the family’s housekeeper, implicitly characterizes Meredith as vapid, shallow and only after Nick’s money. Despite the fact that the girls’ mother, Liz, is a professional designer of wedding gowns, Meredith’s own posh style is contrarily designated as the wrong expression of fashion and femininity — too perfect and uptight.
The message there is that her embrace of femininity is negative and shallow, even while her position in the narrative is directly linked to her femininity and power over her sexuality. In just one summer, not only did she manage to get Nick to fall in love with her, but he proposed. After learning of the engagement, Annie directly blames Meredith for her father’s attraction to her, painting Meredith as a seductress while her father is blameless. “You’re young and beautiful and sexy, and hey, the guy’s only human,” the girl remarks. “But if you ask me, marriage is supposed to be based on something more than just sex, right?”
This theme is not completely unexpected in a romantic comedy from the late 1990s, which was the height of the “I’m not like other girls” brand of internalized misogyny. Meredith’s blatant embrace of her femininity and sexuality flies in the face of this misogyny that is primarily directed her way by the twins, Chessie, and even Liz. The film paints Nick as a hapless victim to Meredith’s prowess.
Another aspect of Meredith’s character that indicates her villainy is her age. Their difference in years between her and Nick is repeatedly emphasized, and we are supposed to mistrust her intentions because of her youth, yet no responsibility is placed on the dad for being engaged to a 26-year-old. All of the jokes the twins make about Meredith being a “big sister” seem to be at their father’s expense, even though the insulting comments are directed at Meredith, the supposedly evil young temptress who blinds their father with her youth and beauty.
Compared to all of the lies and manipulation this family has going on, Meredith trying to live her best life on a winery with a hot older man isn’t the problem. She’s an outsider to all of Nick and Liz’s bad decision-making, as well as to the twin’s manipulation and disturbing sabotage of their parents’ lives. The movie implies that Hallie has manipulated every romantic relationship her father has been in, to keep him alone with her, and that is downright scary — though, in her defense, such manipulations could be the result of the girls being separated at birth and lied to for 11 years. Compared to the way this family approaches difficult situations, Meredith expressing her femininity and pursuing her desires should actually come across as pretty normal.
Meredith even says to Annie, “Being young and beautiful is not a crime, you know.” Besides being a great line to throw back at any internalized misogyny, this affirms the character as a smart, driven, and sexually liberated icon. Meredith’s embrace of her femininity and sexuality make her powerful, and though these traits have traditionally been coded as bad or villainous, attitudes and culture have changed.
In recent years, as feminism has spread further to the mainstream and with the dismantling of the “not like other girls” sentiment as internalized misogyny, more and more people have been appreciating Meredith as a character and as an icon. Especially on social media, she has been embraced for her fashion taste and motivation to seduce a rich older man. When she became a meme in 2018, it cemented her icon status, and Hendrix herself has gotten in on the action on Twitter.
More than 20 years since the release of the Parent Trap remake, Meredith Blake, originally meant to serve as a malign figure in a comedy of remarriage, has become recognized instead as a supporting character to be appreciated as a fierce and liberated woman doing her best with what she has. She truly was a “villain” ahead of her time.