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"Cheaper by the Dozen" - Movie Review

"Cheaper by the Dozen" - Movie Review

Genre:  Comedy, Drama

Rating:  PG (for language and some thematic elements)

Release Date:  December 25, 2003

Actors:  Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, Hilary Duff, Piper Perabo, Tom Welling, Ashton Kutcher, Brent Kinsman, Shane Kinsman, Alyson Stoner, Liliana Mumy

Director:  Shawn Levy

Special Notes:  Liliana Mumy plays Jessica, a cute girl with red hair who happens to be the daughter of Billy Mumy (he was the red-headed kid from the TV show “Lost in Space”).

Plot:  This is a 21st century take on the 1950 classic about a modern couple who do a very old fashioned thing: they have 12 children. Mary (Hunt) and Tom Baker (Martin) are great parents who have put their careers, hopes and dreams on hold so that they can give their kids a balanced and parent-involved life. Except for Anne (Perabo), their 22-year-old eldest daughter who lives with a selfish, self-centered boyfriend (Kutcher) against her parent's wishes, the rest of the family face another dilemma. Tom gets a new coaching job at a large university in the city, so the family ends up moving to the suburbs and setting up a new life. Mary finally finishes her book about her brood and is then whisked away on a whirlwind book tour. With the new lifestyle demands on Mary and Tom, the rest of the family begin to feel neglected and soon a plot is hatched by the kids to get their parents and their old life back. The Baker family ultimately choose not to have it all, but to love what they do have.

Good:  The pairing of Bonnie Hunt and Steve Martin is a natural recipe for fun and laughter, as the two never fail to bring a laugh to almost every scene. Their talents, combined with a talented cast of kids of all ages, make for lots of levity and laughs. Amongst the kids, there are a few big names in the bunch (Perabo, Welling, Kutcher, Duff), but it's nice to see an ensemble where the feeling of family comes through instead of individual star power. Kids will relate to some of the antics the children perform on each other, and adults will relate to the many dilemmas career-minded parents go through in trying to spend time with family. I found the crux of the Baker's problem — not being able to find someone to care for their kids while Tom pursues the coaching job and Mary continues her book tour — a bit of a stretch. Tom can’t find a babysitter for the younger kids and has to bring them with him to work and/or bring the football team home with him so that the kids can be watched — which, of course, ultimately jeopardizes his job. As tough as they make the daddy day-care situation to be, it just isn’t THAT hard to find babysitters or help these days. And for a family that has at least three older kids who could have pitched in and watched the younger kids, somehow that option of "sibling sitting" was never used. (Isn’t that a side benefit of having a lot of kids — that you have built-in babysitters?) The kids rebel against their parents' career choices, and Mary and Tom are (almost) portrayed as being selfish for pursuing them. That's where I take issue with the message of the movie. There’s a huge difference between parents who are workaholics and climb the corporate ladder for their own glory and gratification while neglecting their kids and parents needing to work at two good paying jobs to raise their 12 kids in a nice home and neighborhood. In the end, the two give up the jobs they love, bringing about the ultimate message of the movie: the Baker family chooses not to have it all, but to love what they do have. It's a positive message about family sacrificing for the sake of family and one that a younger generation (and parents) probably need to hear more of! Without making blatant speeches, it's clear that this family is religious. Humorous, subtle remarks are used throughout, including “say the rosary!” or “this is a G rated house!” which Tom says to Anne while scolding her for spending the night with her boyfriend (she sneaks him into the house, but nothing is shown — only implied). I enjoyed a particular conversation between the kids involving Easter and what defines the term "resurrection." There are a few subplots that involve a bully at school, one of the kids feels “unloved” and runs away and Tom and the kids deal with a judgmental neighbor.

Bad:  For the most part this movie is family friendly, but unfortunately there are a few crude words and a profanity thrown in (from an irate coach who chides Tom) that ruin this otherwise wholesome movie. The kids dislike their older sister’s boyfriend, so there’s a scene where they play a prank on him by placing a scent of meat on his pants. Immediately their hungry dog makes a beeline for the meat-smelling pants and unintentionally bites the boyfriend in the crotch. The scene is played for laughs and is more funny than crude. Afterward, the kids are punished for their prank. Something that’s not bad, but curious, is Hunt's straight-to-curly look. You can just about tell when parts of scenes were shot at different times because her hairstyle changes from straight to curly in almost the same scenes. 

Bottom Line:  This is a perfect family movie to see and talk about afterward regarding how your family relates (or differs) with this family's values, responsibilities and kid dilemmas. This "Baker's dozen" never comes up short and delivers a satisfying and entertaining comedy all ages will enjoy.