2003's CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN strays quite a bit from Frank Gilbreth Jr.'s classic 1948 biography book and the genial 1950 film adaptation. This modern-day version is more rambunctious, more catered to the family SUV generation. I found myself liking it - for different reasons - just as much as I did the Clifton Webb/Myrna Loy production.
Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt play the scrambling patriarch and matriarch of this chaotic brood. In raising twelve squabbling children, Tom (Martin) and Kate Baker (Hunt) have sacrificed much. And yet they still dream of having it all, of juggling the perfect family life with the successful careers. When Tom gets offered a job coaching college football at his prestigious alma mater and Kate's book takes off, they relocate the fam out of their rural home and into the bustling city, never mind that this puts the kids all out of sorts. In the 'burbs things seem okay on the surface, even though Tom is never home anymore, preoccupied as he is with the new job. But then Kate goes away on a whirlwind national book tour, leaving Tom in charge of the rowdy, feuding Baker clan. It's not too long before the pressures of a big time college program begin to undermine his parenting obligations. If Steve Martin's hair wasn't already white...
CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN doesn't resonate as deeply as Martin's previous family pictures (FATHER OF THE BRIDE, PARENTHOOD). CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN does have its strong emotional beats, but mostly the story is played for hijinks. I'm fine with that. I thought this movie was fun. Familiar names are peppered in to offset the diverse cast of fresh kid faces. Steve Martin's career has evolved in that he has become a sort of iconic father figure in cinema. Bonnie Hunt, a fine, quick-witted comedienne, matches Martin in sharpness and timing. They have this easy rapport, and I believe them as a married couple. Piper Perabo plays the oldest sibling, Nora, who craves a life of her own but keeps getting dragged back into the crazy goings-on in the Baker household. Tom Welling is the discontented oldest son. Hilary Duff turns in a good performance as the even-keeled fashionista of the clan. Ashton Kutcher, back when he was up and coming, has a hilarious cameo as Perabo's self-involved model/actor. Poor Ashton Kutcher.
But it's the kids, with their personal oddities, who lend a refreshing spikiness to the story. Alyson Stoner (who you may've seen in those Missy Elliot music videos) is the standout as the tomboy ringleader Sarah, mastermind of some of the most diabolical pranks ever put to film (the meat-soaking prank is quite excellent). But it's young Forrest Landis who plays the shy, neglected Mark - nicknamed "FedEx" by his siblings because they claim he was dropped off at the house as a baby - whose actions provide salvation for the quickly deteriorating Baker household. But, wait, before the expected happy ending, the Bakers fall into one wild crisis after crisis, whether it's a pet frog sabotaging breakfast, tag-team throw-up, a recurring gag involving an unstable chandelier, or the wanton destruction of a neighbor's sedate birthday bash. Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy, that mild-mannered couple, would've applied the cane by now. Back in the day, parents really put their kids on punishment.
Stick around for the bloopers at the end of the movie.
This movie comes in two formats: widescreen on one side, full screen on the other. Here are the DVD's bonus stuff (some of which are on the reverse side of the disc):
- Audio Commentary by director Shawn Levy
- Audio Commentary by the Baker kids: Alyson Stoner ("Sarah"), Jacob Smith ("Jake"), Kevin Schmidt ("Henry"), Morgan York ("Kim"), Liliana Mumy ("Jessica"), and Piper Perabo ("Nora") in selected scenes
- Director's Viewfinder: Creating a Fictional Family" (00:04:51 minutes)
- 5 Deleted/Extended Scenes with Optional Director's Commentary (totaling 00:07:38 minutes)