By the time the current administration finishes spending up a
storm, it's going to take a lot of workers to pay off the deficit.
What's more, as baby boomers retire, there will eventually be
only two workers supporting each retiree on Social Security. As
Jack Nicholson would say, something's gotta give and that
something just might be a spurt in population. How to motivate
couples to do what's right for the country? A start could be
making sure that everyone gets to see Shawn Levy's "Cheaper
by the Dozen," a remake of Walter Lane's 1950 movie by the
same name which stars Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy as the
oldest members of a family of fourteen. "Cheaper by the
Dozen" is based on a book which remained a dozen months on
best seller lists about a turn-of-the-century family whose dad is
an efficiency expert running the brood like a factory assembly
line, everything timed to the minute while his wife is a
psychologist and industrial engineer who applies her
professional ideas to running the dirty dozen. On the printed
page, the children learn foreign languages, long division and all
about the stars with methods from Papa Gilbreth's professional
life, ending with the death of Mr. Gilbreth which leaves the Mrs.
to raise the children alone.
For a 3-dimensional view of the actual daily routines of a huge
family that does not enjoy Ethel Kennedy's money, go with the
book. If you don't mind sad pics during the holiday season, you
might check out Vadim Perelman's "House of Sand and Fog."
But if movies like "Elf" are your ticket during Christmas,
"Cheaper by the Dozen" is your destination. The only fatality in
this story adapted by Craig Titley from the famed memoir is that
of Beanie the frog. Otherwise, no-one gets even a cold
(imagine paying doctor bills for fourteen people?) And despite
some expected teen rebelliousness of the I-hate-you-dad
variety, Steve Martin does an effective job of playing the
dozens. As Thomas Baker, Martin at the age of 58 is somewhat
long in the tooth to have kids as young as six years old and has
quite a few years on Bonnie Hunt, who at the age of 39 inhabits
the role of his much laboring wife Kate. They had hoped for
eight kids, but somehow because, as Thomas says, "I couldn't
get her off me," they were egged on to fill a dozen slots.
Thomas Baker, now a football coach rather than a factory
efficiency expert, has a dream: to coach the team of the Illinois
Polytechnic University, moving up from his current gig coaching
high school ball in the more rural digs of Midland, Illinois.
Everybody's happy in Midland, so much so that Kate is able to
pen a book about her brood which turns into a best-seller. But
when Tom is offered a dream job coaching college ball with a
five-year contract, a large, paid-for house and good money, he
drags his people kicking and screaming to the Windy City,
ultimately realizing Christmas-movie-story wise that if there's a
conflict between career and family, guess which comes first?
The young 'uns may share genes and environs but director
Levy successfully differentiates them. Tom Welling's Charlie,
the teen male of the group, is ready to leave home when he
can't get along with his bullying school-mates while teen
daughter Hilary Duff's Lorraine is "totally" into this or that, taking
her time with makeup to her sibs' frustration. Brent and Shane
Kinsman take on the roles of twins Nigel and Kyle, a real
handful as the production notes confirm, while the stand-out
performance is from Forrest Landis as Mark, the kid called
FedEx because he does not appear to fit in with the family and
is given his nickname because he must have been delivered by
truck at 10:30 a.m. and not by the stork.
Well, OK, "Cheaper by the Dozen" rests on a single concept:
that hand-me-downs and busy bathrooms, uptight neighbors
(such as the prim couple with an repressed kid, Dylan), are not
comparable in manufacturing stress to the core issue; which is,
how to show both affection and discipline to offspring ages 6 to
20, each with his or her own mind. Since the movie is targeted
to the small fry, oh, say from 6 to 12, there isn't a heck of a lot of
made-for-adult undertones. Pratfalls, as expected, make up the
bulk of the comic situations: people swing on chandeliers and
fall from them; the dog (Gunner) attacks the oldest girl Nora's
boyfriend, because the kids secretly soaked his underwear in a
vat of hamburger.
Pert Bonnie Hunt will hardly pass muster with the cognoscenti
in the audience as a woman who has gone through labor eleven
times, nor does Steve Martin look much like a college football
coach. But Martin, whose Tom Baker character as a frazzled
dad still bewildered by the size of his family and holding on to a
dream does cross the finish line as the sentimental (but not
cloying) paterfamilias whose affection for every last one in the
house is sorely tested and triumphs.
Copyright © 2003 Harvey Karten