Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Cheaper by the Dozen

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN

6/10

USA 2003 : Shawn LEVY : 98 mins

Steve Martins second blockbusting US-box-office comedy hit in less than a year is (thankfully) several cuts above the dire Bringing Down the House. In fact, despite a generally lousy critical reception from American critics, Cheaper by the Dozen turns out to be the latest in a series of well-made, surprisingly strong family-oriented mainstream comedies even if it doesn’t quite hit the heights of, say, Freaky Friday or School of Rock.

Dozen cant boast an all-stops-out barnstorming central performance of the type that elevated those two movies to the next level. As the title indicates, this is a very crowded affair indeed in which adults and kids alike compete fiercely for the audiences attention. Martin is on relatively restrained form as Tom Baker, a small-town high-school football coach who’s raised his twelve-strong brood alongside unflappable aspiring-writer wife Kate (Bonnie Hunt). Problems only arise after Tom lands his lucrative dream-job at a prestigious Chicago university, and the family must reluctantly relocate to an opulent mansion in a ritzy suburb. When Kate goes off on a two-week tour to promote her new book on child-rearing, overworked Dad is left in charge with predictably chaotic results.

As is par for the course with Hollywood comedies about families, Cheaper by the Dozen doesnt stint on apple-pie morals and homilies: you can’t have it all; money doesn’t buy happiness; careers shouldn’t be placed before family responsibilities, etc. But director Levy and his screenwriters* thankfully never let the life-lessons element get in the way too much, and Dozen often scores surprisingly big on the laughs front.

Raucous set-pieces include the grounded Baker offspring sneaking into the birthday party for mollycoddled neighbour Dylan (scene-stealing Steven Anthony Lawrence) with typically disastrous consequences. Even better are the scenes where the brood gleefully humiliate their eldest sisters new boyfriend: a hilarious (and unbilled) Ashton Kutcher – eerily convincing, and proving himself an unexpectedly good sport, as Hank, an amusingly talentless, obnoxious and self-obsessed model-slash-actor.

6th February, 2004
(seen 4th February : Odeon Gate, Newcastle-upon-Tyne)

* Sam Harper, Joel Cohen (not Coen!) and Alec Sokolow nominally adapted a novel-length memoir by Frank Bunker Gilbreth Kr and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, which was filmed (relatively faithfully) in 1950 with Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy.

by Neil Young