This is not a movie; it is a product, with a script right off the assembly line, a mix of Teen People pin-ups to attract tween demographics, apparently directed on cruise control. Its intended audience of 8-14-year-olds will probably enjoy it very much. But those who care about that audience will be disappointed that the people behind this movie do not realize that they owe those children some imagination and sincerity.
The movie takes its title and family size from the classic book about the real-life Gilbreth family but has no other connection to the original and is inferior to it in every aspect.
Steve Martin plays Tom Baker, a coach who is offered his dream job at his alma mater just as his wife Kate (Bonnie Hunt) hears that her book about the family has been accepted for publication. The eleven children still living at home do not want to move, but Tom promises that it will make them a stronger and happier family. But the new job is very demanding, and when Kate has to go on tour to promote the book, Tom is quickly overwhelmed by the challenges of taking care of his children.
There are the predictable “aww” moments (death of a pet, reminder that the kids might fight with each other, but they really love each other) and the predictable “ewww” moments (one child barfs and another slips and falls on it). The script is slack and lazy, incapable of a satisfying resolution for even the most reliable family-movie plot devices like a mean bully or snobby, over-protective neighbors.
Parents should know that the movie includes some schoolyard-style naughty words and PG-style sexual references that get close to a PG-13. When asked about his 12 children, Tom smirks about his wife: “I couldn’t keep her off me.” He explains that he had a vasectomy but did not wait for it to become effective, resulting in the second set of twins. And part of the plot concerns the oldest child (an adult) moving in with her boyfriend (which does not bother her parents) and whether they should be allowed to sleep together when they visit the family (which does). Some audience members may be offended by the portayal of the family as vaguely Catholic, with references to Jesus and a rosary but no evidence of religious observance. There is comic peril with some minor injuries. The product placement (Crate & Barrel) is particularly (and annoyingly) intrusive.
Families who see this movie should talk about how they work together to make sure that they achieve a balance between time for work and time for each other. How do you make sure that the family comes first? They should also talk about the way that the Baker family supports each other and what they think of Dylan’s parents.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy another big-family comedy inspired by a real story, Yours, Mine, and Ours, starring Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball. They should see the original Cheaper By the Dozen, based on the Gilbreth family, headed by pioneering efficiency engineers who used their “motion study” techniques to raise their children. The book, written by two of the children, has the best dedication in the history of literature: “To Father, who had only twelve children, and to Mother, who had twelve only children. It is well worth reading aloud to the whole family, along with its sequel, “Belles on Their Toes.” Other classic movies about the demands on parents include Martin’s Parenthood (some mature themes) directed by Ron Howard, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (starring then-child actor Ron Howard), and the Oscar-winning drama Kramer vs. Kramer along with silly comedies like Mr. Mom and Daddy Day Care.