Running Time: 98 mins
Is a book by the mother of a family written about that family called an autobiography? Whatever category it falls into, this film is based on Ernestine Gilbreth Carey's best selling book about her twelve children.
There are lots of changes between the book and the film. The Gilbreths become the Bakers. Steve Martin plays father Tom and Bonnie Hunt is mother Kate. Some of these changes are inexplicable, until we remember how important the "cute factor" is in the family comedy genre. For example, of the twelve children in the film there are two sets of twins. In the book they were all single births. Hollywood thinks cute twins sell.
The Bakers live in Lincoln, Nebraska where Tom is a successful football coach at the local University. He and his aspiring writer wife Bonnie raise their 12 children on a farm just outside of town. Life is chaotic and happy. When Tom is offered the job of a lifetime, as Head Coach back at his alma mater the University of Illinois, he packs up the family and moves to the city. Eleven out of the twelve children protest the move.
After only weeks in the city, Bonnie's book starts to take off. She is invited to go to NYC to promote her work. She leaves the family in Tom's less than capable hands. Pandemonium reigns.
Cheaper by the Dozen is the sort of family entertainment I can't abide, filled with sentimental platitudes and predictable clichés about sticking together come what may. The only interesting subtext is the now almost mandatory storyline about the middle child who feels left out. If this film is to be believed, the best remedy to this situation is to run away from home so that all the clan realise how cruel they were to you, and how much you now belong back with them.
There is only one hint that the family is Catholic, and that comes when Bonnie tells her eldest daughter Nora (Piper Perabo), who at 18 is already living with her boyfriend, to say the rosary.
Generally, Cheaper by the Dozen charts the story of dopey parents dealing with highly manipulative and rude children, who seem completely incapable of social adaptation.
Worst of all, it makes parents feel guilty for pursuing their own ambitions, and improving the lot of the family, over the children's objections.
Light on laughs and dripping in syrup, by the end of this film all I could think was that celibacy never looked better!
Fr Richard Leonard SJ is the Director of the Australian Catholic