Cheaper by the Dozen, by Albert W. Vogt III

Yesterday in my review of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) I complained about how the International Movie Database (IMDb.com) often does strange things with cast listings and inexplicably truncates character names. Today, when I went to look at Cheaper by the Dozen (2003), I noticed that every single member of the Baker family is shown with their surname. Why whatever office troll thought it necessary to do this, I will probably never understand. Also, did I imagine this film being on Disney + when that service first premiered? Earlier in the day I had been watching the original Jumanji (1995), a film I still have yet to see in its entirety as I caught it roughly in the middle, and saw that Bonnie Hunt was in it. She can be fun, and my favorite movie of hers is Cheaper by the Dozen. It would seem that there was a much earlier version of this of which I am unfamiliar. What I do know is that the 2003 iteration is set in Chicago and that is good enough for me.

Cheaper by the Dozen is narrated by Kate Baker (Bonnie Hunt), the mother of twelve children and wife of Tom Baker (Steve Martin). The size of their family is the stuff of reality shows that seemingly (and unfortunately) suggest that such a number of offspring is either comical or reckless. For the purposes of this movie, Kate has written a book on her experiences dealing with it all, which provides the reason for the narration early on to introduce the story and at the end to wrap it all up. Between Tom and Kate in their small town of Midland (is there a more Midwestern sounding town?) they have developed a system by which everyone operates and manages to get along. Tom is the head football coach at a fictional Division III school called Lincoln College, but has always dreamed of occupying that position at his alma mater, Illinois Polytechnic University (also fictional). When his best friend from school, Shake McGuire (Richard Jenkins), becomes the institution’s athletic director, he offers Tom the football team’s head coaching job. This involves a move to Chicago, uprooting a large family with deep ties to the their town that they are reluctant to give up. The children’s resentment is assuaged for a time when they get to their new house and find that dad’s new job comes with some perks that they had never had, like their own rooms and not needing to wear hand-me-down clothing. Things become a little more tense, though, when Kate’s book gets published and she must leave to do a book tour, leaving Tom to take care of everyone else. It should be noted that the oldest, Nora (Piper Perabo), actually lives with her boyfriend, Hank (Ashton Kutcher), a fact about which their parents are not too thrilled. But with Kate going out of town, Nora is called in at times to help out. Nonetheless, things devolve into chaos quickly, and Tom proves unable to balance the high demands of being a big time football coach and being dad to so many children at once. Each has their own issue they are dealing with, and Tom can never seem to devote enough time to them individually. This brings Kate home a little sooner than expected, but she finds that even her presence does not completely solve things. This all comes to a head when the introspective, reptilian loving, red-headed middle child Mark (Forrest Landis) decides to run away. His awkwardness caused the other children to call him “Fed-Ex,” suggesting that he had been left on the door instead of being born by his mother. When his frog Beans dies, he decides to try to go back to their old home to bury him with the other frogs that had been his pets. The whole family rallies together to search for him, and Tom eventually finds the boy alone on a train. The rest of the family drive out to Midland to greet them, and there is a happy reunion. This incident serves as a reminder of what is truly important, the family, and Tom decides to give up his dream job to focus on his home life. Besides, Kate’s book becomes a best-seller.

Kate’s book in Cheaper by the Dozen and the related book tour say much about how I believe this film was supposed to be received. For instance, she goes on the old Live With Regis and Kelly show to promote it and all they can talk about is her figure and how she could give birth to so many children. This speaks to what I mentioned above about how such a family size is either comical or crazy, and certainly not normal. There is, of course, the stereotype of Catholic families being that size, and the film makes veiled references to this idea. When Nora brings Hank to the new Baker home and they start making out on the couch, Kate intervenes and suggest she and Nora go into the kitchen and bake or say a Rosary. There are a couple of things I would like to address here: first, this is the only time in the movie that possibly links the family concretely to Catholicism; secondly, large Catholic families are a stereotype, though there have undeniably been some that have gotten quite numerous; third, what is truly wrong with such family sizes? I probably do not need to reiterate the Catholic stance against contraception and abortion, but there you go. However, unlike what so many outside of the Church (and many in it, unfortunately) seem to believe is that does not mean that when a woman gets married she is automatically expected to pop out a litter of children over the course of her marriage. God wants married couples to procreate. The Bible basically says as much. But God gives us rational brains that can understand the female fertility cycle and understand how to both enjoy the trappings of marriage and have children at appropriate times without the use a damaging chemicals. It is called Creighton Model Family Planning, and if you are interested you can look it up by clicking on this link. Now, it does not appear this is what Tom and Kate did, and that is fine too. If they wanted to have that many children, then I say go for it. And neither did Tom have to get a vasectomy as the film shows, unfortunately.

Tom’s procedure in Cheaper by the Dozen is perhaps the only really objectionable moment in the film. It is remarkable to think that it is nearly twenty years old by now, but I feel it still holds up despite its age. If you are getting tired of the offerings on the various streaming services (and with controversial picks like Cuties out there, who could blame you?), it is worth a weekend rental. Its less expensive than going to the movies, anyway. It really is a feel good movie, and it demonstrates (at least cinematically) that such families are possible and can be loving as any other.

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