The holidays are a time when regular schedules typically get chucked aside for all manner of activities with friends and family. Hence I got behind on fan film suggestions, and my apologies for doing so. A few days ago, thinking I had a few in the bank, I watched Cheaper by the Dozen 2 (2005). As with its predecessor, it is the kind of movie that I am a sucker for, even if it does layer on the schmaltz at times. At any rate, since this is still the Christmas season (look it up), there are few films that can beat the focus on family and togetherness like this one.
The Cheaper by the Dozen franchise, if you can call it that, focuses on the Baker family and their Catholic-sized family with their twelve children. The next entry (and presumably last) in the series picks up with second eldest daughter Lorraine (Hilary Duff) graduating from high school. I hesitate to say more about this because I do not want to give the impression that the film is in any way about her. It is a delicate task to develop plots for the fourteen members of the Baker family, fifteen if you count oldest daughter Nora’s (Piper Perabo) husband Bud McNulty (Jonathan Bennett). Luckily, they all seem to be on board for one last family trip to Lake Winnetka for a Labor Day weekend get away before a few of the Baker clan move away to start lives elsewhere. Further complicating the possibility of a tight narrative structure is the competing Murtaugh family, with Jimmy (Eugene Levy) and wife number three Sarina (Carmen Electra), along with their eight children. Assuming my basic arithmetic is correct, that makes twenty-five potential storylines to sort through. Typically that is the stuff that drives a writer nuts, and leads to utter cinematic disaster. Here, they decided to focus on a few of the Bakers and their interactions with select members of the Murtaugh family. This is fraught with tension, though, as Jimmy Murtaugh and Tom Baker (Steve Martin) are childhood rivals that have been competing with one another for decades. After the Bakers had made a mess of the Lake Winnetka club with a chaotic, accidental fireworks display, and destroyed a Baker-Murtaugh lunch with their rampaging dog, relations between the two men reached an all time low. This does not stop the mischievous Sarah Baker (Alyson Stoner) developing a mutual crush on Eliot Murtaugh (Taylor Lautner). Much attention is given to the transformation of the tomboyish Sarah dealing with liking boys for the first time and becoming a young lady, not to mention the ongoing battle between the family patriarchs. The desire to beat the clearly more well off and seemingly perfect Murtaughs becomes Tom’s obsession and he begins to train his children for the culminating Labor Day games that is the focal point for the families in the area. Tom’s maniacal drive begins to alienate his children who get along with the Murtaughs, and eventually he has a mutiny on his hands. What brings them around is when they discover a horde of family memorabilia hidden by the infamous vacation house rat known as the Chiseler. It reminds them that dad just wants to be a part of all their lives, particularly since it was his idea to come to the lake. Resolve renewed, they make it to the lake in time to take part in the games, a series of competitions that results in a tie between the Bakers and the Murtaughs. In order to break the deadlock, the two families in their entirety must have a canoe race. Though disappointed, Tom must back out because Nora is on the precipice of giving birth. Though the judges suggest each team drop a member to compete, Jimmy insists that this is not an option and that the Bakers would have to forfeit if Nora does not participate. This enrages Nora, spurring them all on to the boat. However, halfway through, she begins to go into labor. Jimmy finally relents, and together the two families merge into a horde getting Nora to the hospital to give birth to her son.
Clearly, family is of the utmost importance in Cheaper by the Dozen 2, and that is as good a Christian value as any. However, one of the other themes of this movie is that of competition. 2 Timothy 4:7 says, “I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith.” For further context, keep in mind that this is part of the epistles of Paul, who traveled about the Greek world gaining converts to Christianity. The Greeks were fond of sports in Paul’s day, and other places in his letters utilize allusions to such activities in order to encourage the faithful to keep going in developing their relationship with God. The message is that the world is something with which to contend, at times, and doing so well will draw you closer to God, the goal of any practicing Christian. This is something that Tom does not follow, though Jimmy is even worse. The problem lies in believing that all there is to competition is winning. In Biblical times and today, such an inordinate desire for victory has tended to divide people. The film speaks to this lesson. Not only does the fixation on winning separate Tom and Jimmy, but it makes their children drift away. Only when they both finally let go of this desire do families begin to come back together.
I do not know if this is strange to say or not, but I actually like Cheaper by the Dozen 2 more than its predecessor. It certainly goes against the classic stereotype of the sequel not being as good. This is not meant to be a knock on the first one, but I feel like there is a little more weight to the second. You have children coming of age, parents realizing they need to let their progeny go off on their own, and new relationships being born between former rivals. This is all a recipe for a solid family movie for this reviewer.