|Cheaper by the Dozen (2003)|
|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 06 April 2004|
Steve Martin has a knack for finding projects that touch the hearts of moviegoers, as well as spreading the appeal from adults to kids, which Hollywood has again begun recognizing as the necessary audience to capture of late. Martin delivers realistic yet zany performances that fit comfortably in the framework of the characters he chooses to play. In “Cheaper By The Dozen,” Martin is expertly aided and abetted by Bonnie Hunt, a seasoned hand at capturing the same family market, and by up and coming new teen television heartthrobs, Tom Welling, Piper Perabo and Hilary Duff.
Tom Baker (Martin) is a small-town high school coach who is dedicated to his family. Twelve kids strong, that family demands everything Tom and his wife, Kate (Hunt), can give. While Tom coaches, Kate manages the children, but she has also been writing a book about the family’s life and adventures. Chapter 1 opens with a lively pop beat that hammers through the surround sound system and prepares the audience for the fun and action ahead. The tender moment Tom shares with Kate after his morning run is an absolute blast, and extremely realistic to anyone who has had the good fortune (and stress) of growing up in a large family. The scene with the kids in the bed awaiting their father’s return is spot-on. Also, Hunt’s first-person narrative voiceover introducing the family and how the children came along really works to reel the audience in, making the presentation seem more like it’s a story being told in the viewer’s living room than simply being played back over the monitor.
Chapter 2 moves into the familiar thump on the bathroom door that rattles the subwoofer, then launches into another musical number that accompanies the huge breakfast the family has together every morning. Chapter 3 introduces one of the subplots as young Mark Baker, called FedEx by all the other kids in the household because he is redheaded and completely different than the rest of the family due to his eccentricities (they say he was dropped off by mistake by the FedEx man), goes looking through the house for his pet frog, Beans. Unfortunately, Beans has somehow managed to leap up to the light fixture over the breakfast table and comes tumbling down into the huge bowl of scrambled eggs. The surround sound shakes and vibrates with the clatter and sudden confusion that springs up from the frog chase that launches into full-pursuit mode. The final shattering of glassware as Mark escorts his pet out of the kitchen screams through the auditory nerves like fingernails across a blackboard: inevitable and chilling.
Later in Chapter 3, Kate tries to deal with Mark, but gets sidetracked by the other kids. Then, in another truly honest moment, Tom and Kate show the genuine attraction and silliness that keeps them together no matter how hectic their lives get. (Hunt and Martin pull off this moment with incredible sincerity.)
Rap music bangs through the subwoofer and the surround sound system as Chapter 4 opens up on Tom Baker’s high school football world. His one dream, even after all these years, is to get to coach the college team he was never quite good enough to make as first-string. An old friend, Shake, stops by to make Tom exactly that offer. Later, as Tom and Kate talk about the offer, their dreams and what they’ve always concentrated on doing for the family, the kids spy on them, providing visual gags in the background as the story takes on a serious slant.
Chapter 5 thrums with the noise and arguments provided by the kids as they’re presented with the choice Tom has been given. Tom wants the job and most of his kids are against it, because the move will take them away from everything they’ve ever known. Tom pulls out the bullhorn and gets the kids to quiet down, and the sound of his voice blasts through the surround sound system as well. Tom makes a promise to his family that the move will make everything better for them all. That night, Kate and Tom flip through their memory book in a poignant moment.
“Life Is A Highway” by Tom Cochran roars through the surround sound system as the family makes the move from their small town to the big city in Chapter 6. The screaming kids echo all the way around the surround sound system, and anyone who has kids will recognize all the noises in a heartbeat.
Chapter 7 starts with the basso boom of rap music coming from a nearby car that delineates how far out of their normal world the Baker family is. The music jumps the subwoofer to new life and gives the surround sound system a workout again. The family arrives at their new home, which is huge, but Mark is once more left out of the overall family business. The discordance continues in Chapter 8, when the Bakers try to get along with their neighbors but find out that they don’t have much in common.
In Chapter 10, the pressure on Tom and Kate ratchets up as Kate discovers that her book about the family is going to be published. However, the catch is that she has to go to New York for meetings concerning the book, leaving Tom and the children to fend for themselves. Struggling to find a way to balance his workload and the kids, Tom and Kate ask their eldest daughter, Nora, to help out with the home chores in Chapter 11. Unfortunately, Nora’s boyfriend (played irritatingly well by Ashton Krutcher) doesn’t want to help the family. He’s an actor and has finally appeared in a commercial and is totally full of himself. His dislike for the family is reflected back by the younger children.
In Chapter 12, the family chaos erupts and swells through the surround sound system as the family dog is unleashed on the boyfriend through a series of carefully constructed plans that have to be seen to be believed. Kate leaves the family in Chapter 13, and the forlorn looks on the faces of the smaller children are so realistic they’re heartbreaking.
Chapter 14, underscored by current pop tunes that thump pleasantly through the surround sound system, shows how out of step the Baker kids are with the rest of their new world. All of them run into hard times and just can’t seem to fit in anywhere.
The story continues playing out, putting Tom and his children deeper and deeper into unhappiness and stress while Kate has to go on a whirlwind tour to promote her book. The uproar continues again in Chapter 15, blasting the surround sound system, and again in Chapter 16 to the tune of the Beatles’ “Help!”
Later, trying to put his two problems together, Tom brings the football practice to his house in Chapter 18. The music slams through the surround sound system and ignites the subwoofer. Chapter 19 features a hilarious rescue of the Baker kids at the next door neighbors’ house during a birthday party where they ultimately wreak havoc. The music and wreckage carries through the surround sound system and makes us feel that we are in the middle of it. Things continue to get worse, and the story gives a good hard tug at the heartstrings.
“Cheaper By the Dozen” has a series of outtakes at the end of the movie that reveal how much fun the cast and crew must have had during filming. That conclusion shows in the commentaries by Director Shawn Levy and the Baker kids.
Ultimately, “Cheaper By the Dozen” will satisfy most viewers and most families. It’s a solid tale that the moviegoer has seen before but will generally enjoy time and time again. The musical score and the individual efforts of the young actors and actresses deliver an evening’s entertainment. Somehow, though, Tom’s plight doesn’t quite reach the screen in a number of ways. The viewer doesn’t see all of the threats he faces while trying to make the job work. Also, the neighbors’ sudden change of heart at the end of the movie doesn’t quite come across because there’s no real foreshadowing.
Although both full-screen and widescreen versions are included on the disc, there is no artwork on the disc. Families may find this omission somewhat problematic for the younger viewers, as kids who haven’t learned to read who want to view the movie on their own may lose the disc in a jumble of other discs without the accompanying artwork to let them know what it is. The DVD is definitely worth the rental for a family night, and Steve Martin fans will want to add this one to their collections because “Cheaper By the Dozen” is one of Martin’s more outstanding efforts.