The absolutely iconic 1998 film, “The Parent Trap,” is a staple movie for many people today. The Lindsay Lohan film follows a set of twins, Halle and Annie, working to get their divorced parents back together. To do this, they overcome many obstacles like living in different countries and switching places. But inarguably their toughest hurdle comes in designer clothes and platinum blonde hair. Elaine Hendrix plays the sinister Meredith Blake, the evil soon-to-be stepmother coming in to steal the Parker twins’ father, Nick Parker, and his wealth. Watching this as a highly impressionable 5-year-old, Meredith was the epitome of bad. I watched in horror as she yelled at the twins and manipulated their father. But watching now, I actually see an ambitious and successful young woman.
WHY IS SHE SO BAD?
A publicist from San Francisco, Meredith comes to the Parker family’s rich Napa Valley Vineyard to work on promotional material, and while there inevitably woos the owner, Nick Parker. Her first crime as the villain is her greed. The film portrays her as a seductress, who is only interested in Nick’s wealth. She even says to her own father, “[Nick’s] everything you’ve ever wanted for your little girl, plus millions more.” But this portrayal raises the question: what’s the harm in wanting money? The greed shown to the audience is misunderstood ambition. With an already well-established career, Meredith only wants to further that success. But in a time when women weren’t typically in this position of power, her drive was misinterpreted. In a world where money equates power, it is odd to criticize someone for seeking it out. Women in 90s films are not meant to have that level of control over their own lives and others. Meredith’s atypical in this way because of her autonomy and independence, leading her to be demonized for it.
Her other offense is stealing away the twins’ father, from them and their mother. The plot circulates around a love story between the divorced Elizabeth James and Nick Parker (who inevitably end up together) and the biggest wedge between them is Meredith Blake. A majority of the twins’ scheming is targeted at torturing Meredith in various cruel ways: putting rocks in her bag, putting a lizard on her head, and stranding her in the middle of a lake. While this may seem like justice taking its course, Meredith’s interest in Nick is in no way evil. He is a divorced man who had not talked to his wife in 11 years. All she does is pursue a single man and somehow is villainized for it as a seductress and gold digger. 90s films were often crowded with traditional romantic female leads with eager smiles and patience waiting for the man to fall in love with them. Meredith embodies the antithesis of this concept with confidence in her relationship and taking action to pursue it. However, she never seems to actually do anything wrong.
The reality of Meredith Blake is not an evil stepmother, but a confident, ambitious, and successful young woman. Her character may even serve as a role model for female viewers. What makes her so unique and admirable is that her achievements were made on her own. Even before meeting Nick Parker, Blake was already an established publicist. Elaine Hendrix, who plays Blake in the film, gave an interview to Vox Magazine where she describes her character as, “successful in her own right.” She’s a publicist who’s created a life for herself before meeting Nick Parker.” This level of achievement was rare for female characters in the 90s and even more rare for them to not be portrayed as “evil” for it.
But the trait that helps her achieve this success is what makes her the antagonist of the film: ambition. The confidence she enacts throughout all of her interactions is meant to be the scenes that infuriate the audience. An example is when she takes a business call with Hallie Parker in earshot. While she is on the phone, Hallie is seen rolling her eyes at Meredith for doing business by the pool. Moments like these are scattered throughout the film, making Meredith seem evil for being a successful working woman. Her hustle is contrary to the expectation of the dutiful and loyal mother figure that is embodied in the romantic co-lead, Elizabeth James. But Meredith’s behavior is not problematic. It actually gives an example to young women, that a career and ambition do not have to be sacrificed for motherly duties. Rather, it is an opportunity for independence within their own lives which isn’t traditionally represented
It is especially odd to find flaws in Meredith’s character when her behavior is so similar to the male characters who are celebrated for their high levels of success. White males are consistently portrayed in positions of power in film but are never viewed as greedy or evil for it. Instead, they star as the heroes of their stories who always get the girl and the happy ending. This pattern highlights the double standard between successful men and women: one is praised for their work while the other is hated for it. This inconsistency is why Meredith is such a rare and much-needed character for female viewers.
Meredith Blake has been the villain of “The Parent Trap” for over 20 years now. But as the conception of the working woman has modernized, it is time to reclaim her evilness and label it as ambition. Her greed is only an interest in climbing the ladder of success and her temptress act is built on a woman’s pursuit of a single man. It is time to change the perspective on Meredith Blake. No longer will she be seen as the evil stepmother, but instead as the successful and confident young woman she is. It is then in the hands of the audience to redefine their concept of the bad woman and use that to celebrate ambitious female characters in both “The Parent Trap” and other media now and in the future.
Authored by NOW Chapters Intern, Natalie Bavos-Chen
Lopez, K. (2018, July 28). The Parent Trap, Meredith Blake, and the ongoing reclamation of “bitch”. Vox. Retrieved November 14, 2022, from https://www.vox.com/culture/2018/7/28/17603728/the-parent-trap-anniversary-meredith-blake-elaine-hendrix-bitch-feminist