I’m definitely not the target audience for a movie like Cheaper by the Dozen (2003), as I find it hard enough to understand why two sane, rational people would want to hobble their lives with one baby, let alone twelve of the little blighters! So, it’s impossible for me to empathise with the central couple here (Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt), who first fell in love when they both confessed to wanting large families, and cheerfully sacrificed all their other dreams and ambitions, just so they could breed a bunch of ungrateful, unruly brats they clearly can’t keep up with or control. In fact, there’s even a running “joke” about how the father keeps forgetting the name of one of his younger sons… which just made me sad and angry every time it happened. Its particularly painful to see the writers try to drum up some ill-deserved sympathy for their protagonists by making everyone else around them even more selfish and stupid than they are… heavily implying that anyone who doesn’t want to have multiple children is either a treacherous “hot rod”, an uptight priss, or a narcissistic nogoodnik! Oh, and apparently everyone who lives in the city is an effete, latte-swilling a-hole, who could never hope to understand the simple, down-home pleasures that come with surrendering your every waking moment to a yelping, squabbling, house-wrecking mob of delinquent yahoos! Gah!
I think we can all agree that twelve children is officially “too many” for a nanny-less couple to raise by themselves… but twelve juvenile characters is also waaay too many for a comedy like this to keep track of. For example, they try to make this big plot point of the fact that the eldest son, ‘Charlie’ (Tom Welling), gets kicked off the school football team… but since we, the audience, never actually see him practice or play a single game with the team, why should we be expected to care one way or another? And why do there only seem to be about five other students attending his school, all of whom mock him mercilessly for being a hick? There’s also a bit of a double-standard there with the father insisting that his son stay in school so he can go on to college, even though both parents have pissed away their own education in favour of perpetual parenthood. Ack! Two of the middle children don’t even seem to go to school… or at least, we never see them get dropped off anywhere near a school… I assume they just wander the suburbs, huffing glue and breaking stuff…? Who knows? Gah!
Bizarrely, the parents forbid their twenty-something daughter ‘Nora’ (Piper Perabo) from sleeping in the same room as her boyfriend when she stays over at their house to baby-sit, even though the couple have been sharing an apartment together for some time. The mother insists that their house is strictly “PG”, apparently forgetting all the sex she must have had with her husband to make the many, many babies she’s birthed! So, grown adults are only allowed to share a mattress after they’re married? Did they find this screenplay in a time-capsule? Gah! But… y’know… Hilary Duff looked hella cute as the second eldest daughter, and she had some good lines, so it wasn’t a total waste of time.
Fun fact: Neither Martin nor Hunt have any kids themselves… so, practice what you preach, right?