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Cheaper by the Dozen was originally a popular selling non-fiction story about a large clan, authored by two of the children from the famous family. Their father, Frank Gilbreth, was heralded as an efficiency expert within turn-of-the-twentieth-century industrial circles, and was portrayed as having learned much about saving time while dealing with raising his large group of children. Their mother, Lillian, was also a professional industrial engineer and psychologist.
But things often change in turn-of-the-twenty-first-century cinema. The real Gilbreths are now the fictitious Bakers. Perhaps concerned that intelligent--albeit eccentric--parents wouldn't sell movie tickets, the screenwriters have updated this family of twelve plus two parents with the usual new age scenario: Dumb dad, career aggressive mother, and a few know-it-all children who, in this case, are led by teen daughter Lorraine (Hillary Duff).
Now Dad Tom (Steve Martin) is an aspiring football coach who moved his crew to a small community so he could jumpstart his career. Wife Kate (Bonnie Hunt) dutifully followed and left her position as a newspaper sports reporter to sling hash, do laundry, and help with homework. Even while working the equivalent of twelve domestic jobs, the writing bug motivates her to complete a book on the ups and downs of raising a huge family.
The Gilbreths' model of efficiency has also been abandoned. Meals at the Bakers' look more like a bad day on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, with requests for food punctuated by a child's live frog hopping down from the light fixture into the scrambled eggs. Yet for all the chaos, the kids love where they live and everyone seems happy--until a former associate drops by and gives Tom a shot at coaching college football in Chicago.
Two moving vans and much complaining later, the Bakers are back in the city. The boxes are hardly unpacked when Kate gets the green light from a publisher with the stipulation she must agree to do a two-week book tour. That leaves Tom at home to cope with the dozen (although the oldest daughter has moved away to take up residence with her boyfriend) and his new job. Predictable mayhem ensues, and parents, children, and audiences are left wondering how it will all get sorted out. Unfortunately, even by the end of the movie, that answer isn't very clear.
Two parent families with more than a couple of children are a rare sight to grace a motion picture. Cheaper by the Dozen certainly celebrates big family life, but for all the laughs solicited by dad dangling from a chandelier and batting rotten apples with a tennis racket, or kids slipping in another's vomit, the viewers may be happy they're not sharing a fence with this bunch. Nor are they likely to be convinced the Bakers love each other--although the script claims they do on numerous occasions. Instead the brood comes off as fourteen of the most selfish individuals to live under one roof.
Yet aside from some sexual banter between mom and dad and the oldest daughter's willingness to shack up with a fool, there is little objectionable content. There is even a brief moment when truth does reign on the screen and Steve Martin's character attests, ?If I screw up raising my kids, nothing else will matter much.? It's just disappointing that the sum of this dozen doesn't add up to more than an average made-for-TV movie.
Cheaper By the Dozen is rated PG: for language and some thematic elements
Cast: Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, Hillary Duff