When Elaine Hendrix answers the phone and delivers a crisp, immediately recognizable “hello,” my body jolts with something like fear. This is, after all, the unmistakable voice of Meredith Blake, the blue-eyed, blond-haired, pristinely dressed antagonist of The Parent Trap. “I’m actually a bit terrified to be speaking to you,” I admit. Two decades after the movie’s release, Meredith’s legacy as a menacing presence is so tenacious that I have to continually remind my relatively rational, 20-something reporter self not to fear: I am on the phone with the actor Elaine Hendrix, not the character Meredith Blake.
Throughout my childhood, I considered Meredith Blake a villain on par with Ursula of The Little Mermaid or, as Hallie and Annie of The Parent Trap liked to call her, Cruella de Ville. In my mind, Meredith represented everything wrong with the values of the looming, but still far-off, adult world: She was calculated, cruel, and most unforgivably, alienated from any sense of childlike joy. Even Hallie's dog, an affable golden retriever, didn't like her. Since Meredith was the primary obstacle to Hallie and Annie’s ambitious scheme of reuniting their parents, I thought her climactic punishment — being pushed onto a lake on an air mattress and subsequently dumped by her fiancé — was well deserved.
Ultimately, Meredith’s stupendously humiliating exit aligned with my childlike sense of justice. The years passed, I grew up, and I still never questioned Meredith’s fundamental evil — until now, when I recently rewatched The Parent Trap and found myself in the uncomfortable position of rooting for Meredith. Could the plot twist of The Parent Trap be that Meredith, with her impeccable taste and gleaming professional success, was actually a total boss?
Let’s briefly reframe the prevailing narrative of The Parent Trap. Meredith, as the Parker's housekeeper Chessy (Lisa Ann Walter) explains, is the 26-year-old head of PR for Nick’s (Dennis Quaid) vineyard. To summarize: The woman's barely skimming her late twenties, and she’s already in charge. Meredith has also attained a degree of “put-togetherness” displayed only in the pages of Vogue and the impeccable pencil skirts of the women of Suits. With crisp white dresses and floppy black hats befitting a chic witch, Meredith appears as if she hasn’t stained an article of clothing since she was in diapers.
If the plot of The Parent Trap had followed Meredith’s wildest dreams, Hendrix guesses Meredith would have “ended up with the dad, and [Hallie and Annie] would’ve ended up in Switzerland. The winery would’ve become a huge sensation. Probably 10 to 15 years later, they’d get divorced, and she’d be onto the next project.” Hendrix’s phrasing of “the next project” is telling. Meredith wasn’t looking for love, necessarily, when she seduced Nick. In her extremely practical mind, marriage was just an entry point a different realm. When she saw Nick, she didn't just see a man – she saw a world.
Meredith wasn’t a gold digger so much as she was an opportunist. Which is, coincidentally, just what her parents taught her to be. In a telling scene, Meredith introduces her stodgy old parents to Nicky, as she calls her fiancé. “Be nice, Daddy,” Meredith says. “He's everything you ever wanted for your little girl...plus millions more.” With her slightly cloying, slightly desperate tone, Meredith's age shows — she's just a 26-year-old girl fulfilling parental expectations. Put simply, The Parent Trap is a movie about children trying to make their parents happy. Hallie and Annie are raised to be wildly precocious poker-playing kids who are at ease with adults. They use their skills to reunite their parents because they, wise beyond their years, think they know better than Nick and Elizabeth. After this scene, it’s clear Meredith is acting in line with her upbringing — just like Annie and Hallie are.
It’s too simple to dismiss Meredith as a mere swamp witch, as I once had. She's not a cookie-cutter antagonist. She's a fully realized character with ambition, drive, and vulnerability beneath that perfectly coiffed exterior — and this complexity is what makes her final scene so unforgettable. Even if she's the movie's villain, it's impossible not to feel pangs of empathy as we watch her unravel during the ill-fated hike with Annie, Hallie, and Nick. Meredith's dramatic eye-twitching and huffs are understandable, considering she’s gaslit by her fiancé, who refuses to take her concerns about his ex-wife’s presence seriously, and tormented by his kids, who put a lizard in her hair and turn her into a mosquito trap. Those memorable shrieks she emits at the lake? They’re the shrieks of 26-year-old woman whose careful plan for her future has been foiled by some truly off-the-rail, entitled kids.
At that moment, when Meredith is floating haplessly in the lake on an air mattress, we’re supposed to laugh at her – but feel for her, too. “I’ve played my fair share of this type of ambitious women. It’s always [a] balance between the ambition and having warmth and some genuine feeling. They can’t just be shallow gold diggers. I think that’s why some people today say, ‘I think Meredith was misunderstood,’” said Hendrix.
Meredith is part movie character, part personality litmus test. Based on the viewer’s age and experiences, she might come off as a viper bent on sucking all spontaneous joy from the world and sending kids to boarding school in Switzerland — or as an admirably calculated queen with a killer wardrobe. Perhaps this very malleability is what has given Meredith such lasting power. Today, Meredith has been revived as a meme on the internet. Hendrix says she's stopped on the street nearly every day and asked if she's "that lady" from The Parent Trap.
“She’s still a hugely popular character,” Hendrix pointed out. “Some people very much still hate her. Other people are like, you go girl. She needs to get what she wants. It’s a little bit like Team Aniston, Team Jolie.”
I still think Meredith represents the twisted values of the adult world. She’s a woman who uses her beauty and charm to achieve financial security. But the problem isn’t with Meredith – it’s with the economically skewed, patriarchal world that forces a woman to use her beauty as currency. Meredith's not trying to change the world. She's just playing her cards. And you have to give it to her: The woman has quite a hand.