Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Media with a Message: ‘Cheaper By the Dozen’

By MEGAN SENNETT, GB Youth Board | Published January 22, 2004

I first read the book “Cheaper by the Dozen” by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey for a school assignment when I was in the sixth grade.

I loved the true, laugh-out-loud funny anecdotes about the trials and tribulations of a large family (12 kids—almost unheard of in this day and age!) growing up in the 1920s. It centered around Frank Gilbreth Sr., a time and motion expert who attempted to apply his assembly line theories to his family. He reasoned that every task, no matter how trivial, could be broken down and studied to see how it could be accomplished more efficiently.

On Christmas Day, a new and updated version of the classic was released in theaters. While bearing the name of the famous book and focusing on a family with 12 children, little else is the same in this modern family comedy.

The movie takes place in 2003, all of the names are changed, and the family patriarch Tom Baker (played by the always funny Steve Martin) is a football coach rather than an efficiency expert.

The movie’s story, although different from the book’s, is simple. After many years of having a mediocre job coaching football at a small college in Midland, Ill., Tom is finally offered the head-coaching job at his alma mater in Evanston, the job he’s dreamed of his entire life. Even though the family will move from a tiny bungalow in the middle of nowhere to a sprawling home in a $1 million neighborhood, the kids don’t want to leave their home and friends. However, Tom accepts the new job.

The move coincides with the national tour Tom’s wife Kate (Bonnie Hunt) must make to promote her book written about the family titled, appropriately, “Cheaper

by the Dozen.” Tom is left to take care of the family, although he has plenty of job responsibilities of his own, coaching the football team, while Kate is on the road. Of course, Dad can’t control the bunch when Mom’s not there, and hilarity ensues.

“Cheaper by the Dozen” has lots of charm and laughs. The child actors are very cute, although they each play a fairly clichéd role. There is the oldest daughter (Piper Perabo) who is the only child living out of the house, the high school football player who’s contemplating dropping out of school (“Smallville’s” Tom Welling), the fashion princess (“Lizzie McGuire’s” Hilary Duff), the mischievous ringleader who concocts the schemes that get the children into trouble, the 6-year-old who thinks he’s really tough, the boy obsessed with skateboards and roller blades, the chubby preteen trying to fit into the teenage world, the little boy with glasses whose only friend is his pet frog, and two sets of twins.

The twin boys are adorable and say their best lines to the director during the bloopers shown during the ending credits. Ashton Kutcher also has a role, playing oldest child Nora’s boyfriend Hank. One of the funniest parts in the movie is when Ashton’s character, an aspiring actor, pokes fun at himself by giving a speech about how he is selected for acting jobs not based on talent but on good looks.

Unfortunately, today no one can understand how, or why, any family would have 12 children. In light of our country’s sharp divide over the morality of abortion, it is uplifting to see a large family on screen. Many people will, I’m hopeful, understand that although the logistics of having many children can be challenging at times, the rewards far outweigh the negatives. The movie’s message that happiness doesn’t depend on money and fame is a desperately needed one.

When all of the pressures of the Baker family’s new life become too much to handle, the family experiences a crisis and all 14 band together without a second thought. They straighten out their priorities and learn that the most important thing they have is each other.

Although the message is an important one, the journey is a little too clichéd and predictable. It plays like an entertaining family sitcom without commercials. However, it does score points for being the rare middle-of-the-road film that is clean enough for kids, yet funny and enjoyable for adults as well.

Megan Sennett is a sophomore at Chattahoochee High School and attends St. Brigid Church, Alpharetta.