I’m inside a winery with Dennis Quaid. The lights are dimmed, special bottles are on display along the wood-paneled walls, and I’m nursing a glass of Syrah when he bursts onto the stage. He’s 64 years old, all skin and bones in a black button down shirt and distressed jeans. I put on my glasses to get a closer look. His hair is mostly there, mostly brown. He’s grinning — that grin — and jumping across the stage to greet fans on either end. A talented band of middle-aged men start up with an unidentifiable beat behind him, and he takes his place behind the center microphone stand.
“You guys ready to rock and roll?” asks Dennis Quaid.
I scream. We all scream. We are ready.
Dennis Quaid is an award-winning actor with an impressive roster of film roles throughout the past 40 years, from Breaking Away to The Big Easy to The Day After Tomorrow. I have only seen him in The Parent Trap. To me, Dennis Quaid is synonymous with Nick Parker, the charming, somewhat helpless single dad responsible for raising his daughter Hallie Parker on the vineyard he owns in Napa Valley, California. Dennis Quaid got married on the Queen Elizabeth II, then promptly got divorced from his beloved British wife. Dennis Quaid heavily relies on a nanny named Chessy to raise his kid, run his home, and cook something besides pasta every day. Dennis Quaid goes on a special camping trip with his daughter every summer. Dennis Quaid owns horses. Dennis Quaid dates young and beautiful blondes. Dennis Quaid is a dad, but not just any dad, a hot dad.
In 1998, when The Parent Trap comes out and I am 11, I am in love with Dennis Quaid.
The boys closer to my age who I can find on screen — your Jonathan Taylor Thomases, Aaron Carters, and James Van Der Beeks — don’t really have much to offer in my mind. They have baby faces and long golden hair. They wear the popular brands of the day, and you can just tell they spend a lot of time looking at themselves in the mirror. They know nothing of responsibility, of vintage ’86 bottles of red, of lost love and missed opportunities, of what it takes to make a family right. I don’t fantasize about dating one of these boys. I am ready for a man.
The average age of the crowd has to be about 50. Aging rockers — one with a long gray ponytail and playing card-themed suspenders, another with a guitar patterned short-sleeved button-down shirt — take their seats and whip out their phones when Dennis Quaid & The Sharks take the stage. They record videos, snap pictures, laugh at Dennis Quaid’s banter (“These guitars, you know?”), do some subtle shimmying in their chairs. At first we are all refined, restrained — City Winery is a classy place, and we are all adults here, just taking in a show.
Then the second song begins, and Dennis Quaid has left the stage. He runs around the venue, weaving through tight tables and bar stools, holding his electric guitar which he surely can’t be playing anymore. The crowd is ecstatic. We are on our feet, reaching our hands out with the hopes that he will come close enough to touch us. I don’t even think to reach for my phone and grab a picture when he’s mere inches away. I am star-struck. Quaid-struck. I find myself screaming like an 11-year-old girl.
Dennis Quaid returns to the stage and finishes the song. A woman from one of the front tables throws him a small black towel, and Dennis Quaid wipes his face with it. “I’m afraid to ask if you’ve been… keeping this warm for me,” he says. The ladies in the audience squeal. My cheeks go flush. I am embarrassed, but I really can’t tell for whom.
“Oh gosh, it’s him,” Annie James says, clutching her chest, when she sees her dad for the first time at Napa Airport. A romantic, sweeping score plays in the background while the camera zooms in on Dennis Quaid’s sun-kissed face, that indelible grin. I always found the line a little funny — something about the way she says him makes it sound more like a crush than a long-lost dad, but now I wonder if that was the point.
Throughout the film, we are constantly confronted with Nick Parker’s good looks. When Hallie-as-Annie starts to pester her mom for more details about her father, all she says is, “He was quite lovely, to tell you the truth… he was entirely lovely.” And when Liz prepares to travel to California to switch the girls back, she freaks out to Martin the butler while smoking a stress cigarette, saying, “He was rather dishy. He had a smile that made me go weak at the knees, if you can imagine that.”
I’m certain, now, that my love for Dennis Quaid was by director Nancy Meyers’ brilliant design. The movie would have had much less appeal if the twins were trying to reunite their mother with a regular dad, one with a beer gut and male pattern baldness, the kind we saw on sitcoms and in our very own homes. There is no other heartthrob in this movie (sorry, Martin), no young boys for Hallie and Annie to fight over. Nick Parker is it, and he is enough. More than enough.
If the overarching message of The Parent Trap is that true love is capable of resurfacing at any time, the hidden agenda of the film is that dads can be totally crush-worthy and exceedingly hot.
“I’m a good man, but I’m a bad boy.” Dennis Quaid has traded places with his keyboard player and is crooning a blues number. At this point in the evening, three women in the front row remain standing at all times, their bodies swaying to the music. Dennis Quaid seems child-like in his excitement — this is not his first instrument switch; he’s been accepting different guitars from a roadie between almost every song — and it feels as though he is up there playing make-believe, trying out different genres and voices to fit his flitting moods. He is Dennis Quaid the Actor, playing Dennis Quaid the Rock Star.
The band does a cover of “Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash, and Dennis Quaid’s voice goes low and twangy. He does a tribute to Bing Crosby, lyrics which mostly consist of him asking an imaginary bartender for an Old Fashioned (“Make it a double“). He does a charged original song with the line, “I can’t have a thought that’s not politically corrected.” He does rockabilly, rock and roll, Morrison — both Van and Jim.
“We all have more than one side to us,” he tells the crowd. “It’s hard for me to know where I’m at.”
By the time he finishes the set, I feel confident that his sometimes growly, sometimes smooth, always energetic style of music can only be called one thing: Dad Rock. Towards the end of the evening, before an encore of “Great Balls of Fire!” — remember, Dennis Quaid played Jerry Lewis in the 1989 biopic by the same name — he thanks the audience for coming. “I know you have lives and kids,” he says. “I do, too.”
Whatever alternative personas he’s trying out tonight on stage, Dennis Quaid the Dad can’t seem to stay out of it. From the sounds of the crowd, we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Parent Trap Week is an entire week dedicated to the 1998 iconic film, in honor of its 20th anniversary. See all the posts here.