CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN
Tom Baker (Steve Martin) and wife Kate (Bonnie Hunt) live in a small Illinois town, where Tom coaches the college football team, and Kate concentrates on their twelve children. Life is organised chaos: eldest daughter Nora (Piper Perabo) has recently moved in with low-grade actor Hank (Ashton Kutcher), but teenage son Charlie (Tom Welling) and sassy daughter Lorraine (Hilary Duff) help with the family responsibilities. When Tom is offered his dream job coaching a team at a large university, the family is uprooted, much to the displeasure of all 12 children. Then, Kate learns her memoirs are about to be published, and is whisked away to New York on a publicity tour, leaving Tom to cope with the mounting pressures and problems at home and his new job.
Review by Louise Keller:
What a lovely surprise: beyond the gloss of this formulaic Hollywood comedy about the importance of family, lies a heart-felt and hilarious treasure chest filled with home truths. The magic of a good comedy is in the recognition of emotions that ring true. Director Shawn Levy (Just Married, Big Fat Liar) plays the comedy for all its worth, incorporating not only over-the-top slapstick that prompts the belly laughs, but hones in on those little true-to-life incidents and emotions that we instantly connect to.
Like the emotional crescendo that pivots on a small red-haired boy with glasses losing his pet frog Beans, and what happens next. No amount of mayhem and madness or fabrication, like breakfast with scrambled eggs splattered children when the frog is rescued from the light fitting above the kitchen table, can deny the heart-felt reality of a moment like a child losing his confidante and best friend. Sam Harper, who also collaborated with Levy on Just Married, joins screenwriters Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow, combining creative ideas and heart, to deliver laughs and pathos.
Of course who better to play father to the Baker’s dozen, but ever-cheerful Steve Martin, whose madcap antics and lovable nature are shaken and stirred as he tries to have both his career dream as well as his dream team at home. Martin is well matched by Bonnie Hunt, whose natural comedic flair is ever on display. Much is made of the narcissistic Hank (a comic turn by Ashton Kutcher), as he repeatedly sings his own praises and oogles at himself in a mouthwash commercial.
The scheming Baker kids concoct the outlandish plan (unbeknownst to him) to soak Hank's underpants in meat and suffer the consequences, as not only their dog Gunner, but all the neighbourhood dogs can’t tear themselves away from his crotch. When Tom reprimands the kids, telling them that what they did was wrong, even though it was funny, we sense that he is filled with admiration at the ingenious plan. (Previous visits by Hank had prompted him to be set on fire, although as everyone is keen to remind us, it was only his pants).
There’s plenty of teenage appeal with Tom Welling’s rebelling Charlie and Hilary Duff’s Lorraine with the lip-gloss and Piper Perabo’s Nora, who makes us understand the emotional tug-a-war she is going through making a stand for a new life on her own, but retains the ties of family. Not surprisingly, the scene stealers are the kids, and in particular our hearts warm to Forrest Landis, the little boy with the frog, whose nickname Fedex offers an insight to his alienation from his siblings.
Yes, there are moments that are sheer manipulation and contrivance – like the scene when Steve Martin’s Tom hides himself in the hall cupboard while reassuring his wife on the other end of the phone that everything is under control. We know the truth, as we hear the shattering of glass and the blade of a knife slices through the door, like a piece of firewood and hell is breaking loose. Perhaps it is because there is plenty that is done for laughs, that it comes as a big surprise, to find such a real emotional connection with the characters as the film comes to its climax. Cheaper by the Dozen offers more than a dozen ways to laugh at the peculiarities of everyday life, never letting us forget its core sentiment, that it is the all-important family that makes it all worthwhile.
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CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (G)
CAST: Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, Ashton Kutcher, Hilary Duff, Piper Perabo, Tom Welling, Kevin G. Schmidt, Alyson Stoner, Jacob Smith, Forrest Landis, Liliana Mumy, Morgan York, Blake Woodruff, Shane and Brent Kinsman
PRODUCER: Robert Simonds, Michael Barnathan, Ben Myron
DIRECTOR: Shawn Levy
SCRIPT: Sam Harper, Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jonathan Brown
EDITOR: George Folsey Jr
MUSIC: Christophe Beck
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Nina Ruscio
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 8, 2004