REVIEW: ‘Cheaper by the Dozen’ is a Fine Family Film

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Cheaper by the Dozen - But Why Tho

Cheaper by the Dozen is a new take on the 2003 family comedy of the same name. A Disney+ Original, Cheaper by the Dozen is directed by Gail Lerner and written Kenya Barris, Jenifer Rice-Genzuk, and Craig Titley. Unlike the 2003 take on a blended family, this iteration on the novel by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey focuses on building a non-traditional family differently.

A family of 12, Zoey (Gabrielle Union) has kids from her first marriage, and Paul (Zach Braff) has biological kids and one adopted child from his first marriage, and then they have their own batch of kids that they’ve had together, multiple sets of twins. Oh, and the ex-wife is the babysitter who is less interested in being a strict mom and more worried about being a friend to everyone who watches TikTok on the couch. But with multiple dynamics working, one of the most important in the film is that the family isn’t just a patchwork from marriages, but an interracial family as well.

Much like the 2003 film, the Bakers live in a house a little too small and the kids have to adapt to situations at school. But the ultimate point of drama that Cheaper by the Dozen rotates around narratively is the expansion of the family business: a diner that only serves breakfast. Using the diner’s success and possible growth as the launching pad for a “better life” the goal of the film is for the family to come around to appreciating what they already had, and to tell a grass isn’t always greener story.

The “fresh” element marketed for the film is the fact that this blended family has more issues to deal with in the outside world than just jokes about giant families. In many situations, Zoey takes the brunt of assumptions about the family, is called a nanny, has her name mispronounced, and is questioned by security in the area. As a character, Zoey takes a lot.

While the film is cognizant of it, Zoey doesn’t get the space to complain, either to her ex about their joint custody or to Paul about the strain growing the business is putting on her as she effectively turns into a single-parent of 12 for periods of time. Instead, Zoey tells everyone around her that she’s fine. While this changes with the film’s climax, Cheaper by the Dozen doesn’t seem to truly give her the space to just rest, she’s just expected to keep going.

Additionally, Cheaper by the Dozen doesn’t shy away from talking about race and the very different ways that the Baker’s neighbors will see each kid based on their race. Sure, it’s hamfisted most of the time, but the fact that Disney gave this film the space to explore race so explicitly is something that should be expected, and yet it is still surprising. However, even in some of the more emotional moments in discussing race, Zach Braff’s character gets to side-steps issues in a way that marginalized the biological father in the situation. Love can only get you so far when the world is built against you and you need a parent to teach you how to stay safe. While Paul says he understands it, there isn’t much action that goes into that understanding.

That said, the strongest two elements in Cheaper by the Dozen is honestly from Union and Braff’s chemistry as parents and the focus that family is defined by the people in it, and not always by blood. While this takeaway does stifle other lessons in the film, it is valuable in nearly every story about family. It may be a little bit of my own bias coming from a family that isn’t all biologically related, but teaching kids, who are easily a large target for the film that their family can be loud and different and still have meaning is important -especially for those with step-parents.

At almost two hours though, I can’t help but think that Cheaper by the Dozen would have benefitted from a mini-series or series order instead of a film. Naturally, with such a large ensemble, the film tries to give most of the children context and plot points, but they end up being muddled and less interesting than the overall frustration the family as a whole is feeling. Additionally, the actors involved are great, from the kids to the parents, and there are clearly more stories than what we’ve seen in the Baker household, though the film’s epilogue seems to close the door for any more stories with the family.

Cheaper by the Dozen is very clearly a story with Kenya Barris‘ mark on it, for better and certainly for worse. However, it’s a fine and charming family film that aims for social commentary in some capacity (even with its faults), a lot of jokes, and a pretty stellar leading couple. While far from great, I can easily see it getting lots of play for family movie night regardless.

Cheaper by the Dozen is streaming exclusively on Disney+ on March 18, 2022.


Cheaper by the Dozen (2022)
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    Rating - 6/10
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TL;DR

Cheaper by the Dozen is very clearly a story with Kenya Barris‘ mark on it, for better and certainly for worse. However, it’s a fine and charming family film that aims for social commentary in some capacity (even with its faults), a lot of jokes, and a pretty stellar leading couple.