Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Cheaper By the Dozen 2003

MPAA Rating: PG-Rating (MPAA) for language and some thematic elements

Reviewed by: Misty Wagner

Better than Average
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Kids Family
1 hr. 55 min.
Year of Release:
Copyright, 20th Century Fox Copyright, 20th Century Fox Copyright, 20th Century Fox Copyright, 20th Century Fox Copyright, 20th Century Fox Copyright, 20th Century Fox Copyright, 20th Century Fox Copyright, 20th Century Fox

Starring: Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, Hilary Duff, Piper Perabo, Tom Welling | Directed by: Shawn Levy | Produced by: Robert Simonds, Ben Myron, Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan | Screenplay by: Craig Titley, Sam Harper, Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow, Frank B. Gilbreth Jr., Ernestine Gilbreth Carey | Source writer: Frank Buker Gilbreth Jr., Ernestine Gilbreth Carey | Story: Craig Titley | Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Sequel: “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” (2005)

I went to this movie a skeptic and came out deeply touched! Some of us go to a movie simply for its entertainment value, while others go seeking something a bit deeper and maybe touching… well, this movie is IT on all accounts!

The story is about Tom (Steve Martin), and Kate Baker (Bonnie Hunt) who fall in love in college, and while pursuing their dreams of career, decide that their shared dream of a large family wins out in the end. They build a home in a more rural town in Illinois and build their lives and family. Fast forward to 12 children and 20 some odd years later, their relationship is great, romance is alive, lives are chaotic but they know they are blessed. A job offer to coach in Chicago causes Tom to “reach for his dream,” and with his supportive wife and skeptical kids in tow, they relocate to a new home, higher “status” and of course, everything changes. It’s not long before doors open for Kate’s dream of being a published author, and with this the problems really start to arise.

In one of the first scenes, Tom comes in from a jog and sits down on his “lumpy mattress” (lumpy because there are about 6 little ones and a dog under the covers hiding) and Kate tells him the “trick” to getting the lumps out of an old mattress. The kids come out giggling and “wrestling” with dad as he attempts to “de-lump” the old mattress. Just then the music montage from the opening fades back in and you see this family loving each other and playing as you hear Natalie Merchant singing “these are the days to remember.” I was deeply touched by this entire scene, and this movie just continued to surprise and touch both my husband and I until the end (which has hilarious outtakes to accompany the credits). Granted, we only have one four year old and not 12 kids, but there were scenes and moments in there that any parent (regardless of the number of children you have) can relate to.

The soundtrack is fabulous and fits the film well, serving up “classic” songs for all generations. The acting is great; the kids were funny, adorable and brilliant. Hillary Duff and Tom Welling both did well, and even Ashton Kutcher added a small, but great performance that will leave you aching from laughter. This movie (or at least a good family movie that did not try to “cross the line”) has been a long time in coming, and I think that this Christmas was the perfect time for “Cheaper by the Dozen.”

Negative elements—Near the beginning of the film there was a small conversation among the kids where Hillary Duff’s character (Loraine) talked about how Christmas is a sad holiday because it’s when Jesus died, which leads other kids to “correct” her. To us, it was not an offensive situation, but I know that some people may find the “lightheartedness” of it offensive. “God” is used subtly once, in a derogatory way. There are a few lighthearted comments concerning the Bakers getting pregnant once due to being drunk. One sentence in another scene used the word crotch (lighthearted and not outlandishly inappropriate at all). The children have several scenes where they do “crazy kid stuff” to an extreme; it’s a little violent, so if that is something you hesitate wanting your children to see, it is there. My four year old loved it, and laughed out loud often.

The times when the children were disrespectful to the parents were rare. The one major time that Charlie (Tom Welling) was hatefully disrespectful to his father, he did come back humbly and apologize.

The oldest daughter, Nora (Piper Parabo) lives with boyfriend (Kutcher). It is indicated and lightly discussed a few times, and though not a lot of emphasis is put on the morality issues of this, it is stated that her parents disapprove several times, not just of him but of their sleeping together.

Conclusion—In the end, I feel that this movie is great for parents and children alike. As parents, it helps us see that having kids does not take away from or inhibit us from our dreams, but enhances the way things will be. That it does require sacrifice, hard work and selflessness to bring a family together and keep it that way, but it’s worth it. Our kids are worth it! As a Christian walking, I felt I was not only entertained, but I felt encouraged in the choices I make as a parent. God’s grace is big enough for all of us and I love having the assurance of that! I encourage this as a holiday film, as a family movie for all ages.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—Overall, a good movie to take the kids to with good family values and a pretty good cast. I can’t agree w/ the reviewer that the movie is great because it has a tendency to substitute contrived loudness for better lines and more work on making scenes believable. A great theme throughout was how committed the parents are to their kids.

Comparing this to normal Hollywood fare, this one really stands out as positive. Of course, there is no reference to the development of character through a relationship with God or Jesus rather it is assumed good behavior is good for everyone involved. For example, the oldest sister makes a serious decision that is based on her allegiance to the family rather than a realization that there is a foundational moral issue at hand.

Unfortunately, during the credits, which is backdropped by outtakes, the character who plays the oldest son takes the mother (Bonnie Hunt) in a sweeping kiss which was just totally inappropriate and made kids in the audience uncomfortable. You may want to wisk the kids out before the credits start at the end.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
Bob MacLean, age 54
Positive—So entirely pro family—EVEN big families—with such a good-naturedness about it, I cannot help but be entirely enthusiastic about it!! There was a mother AND a father too! How utterly unusual in this day and age! How refreshing!
My Ratings: [Good/5]
Bill Holmes, age 51
Positive—What a fun movie to watch! I took my 15-year-old brother, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Steve Martin was hilarious, Bonnie Hunt added her wit, and Tom Welling was fantastic. Concerning the “attitudes” of the children in the movie that other reviewers are bothered by—let’s face it, a lot of kids act exactly this way, if not worse. I charge the viewer to see the reality of the situation and notice how the parents respond. Disrespect is not at all commended in this film. Come on, people! Forget the legalism for a moment. Let’s be glad that a positive, well-made family-friendly movie is doing so well at the box office.
My Ratings: [Good/4]
D. Hei, age 22
Positive—Great movie. No offensive language or nudity. Depicts real life struggles of parents of a large family with a comedic spin. Don’t really know how it got its PG rating…
My Ratings: [Good/4]
MM, age 39
Positive—My family and I went to see this movie on Christmas day. The main “no-nos” we look out for in a movie are profanity and sex, neither of which was in this movie. My kids loved it—ages 10 and 13. The only thing my husband and I hated was the daughter with the horrible attitude (Sara?)…that kid needed discipline! But overall we loved this movie and would recommend it.
My Ratings: [Good/4]
Stephanie Jackson, age 41
Positive—I went to this movie not sure what exactly to expect. I am a youth worker at my church and I brought 4 of the youth with me to see this movie. I was completely comfortable having them sitting next to me through the duration… Nothing really made me wish that I hadn’t brought them with me. The parents show true love for their children, and the children, apart from certain moments, do show respect for their parents. But we can’t fault them for having moments when they’re frustrated or hurt by moving and being thrown into a new situation.

The situation with the one oldest daughter living with her boyfriend… unfortunately that is reality now, and parents are forced to deal with it. But I think it was handled well. The parents did not allow them to sleep in the same room under their roof, and they were talking to their daughter about it, it wasn’t a big secret. The daughter’s choice in the end, I think, proves where her loyalties are and proves the way she was raised.

Overall… a great movie! Lots of laughs, and nothing that any of us found offensive or bothering in any way. I would recommend it. I plan on buying it when it comes out, no doubt about it!
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
Laureen, age 20
Positive—Having 5 kids myself I found myself relating so well to this movie. The unconditional love between the parents is refreshing. And the love for family is so rewarding. Life with a big family is full of crazy experiences like vomitting on the kitchen floor. Believe it or not one of my daughters did that when guest were over. I could sit back and laugh because we’ve been there. I walked out with a greater thankfulness for my family. I can’t wait till this comes out on dvd, we’re buying it! We saw it twice. I had to see it with my whole family.

I would look down the line of my family and could fit them into certain scenes or roles. We all thoroughly enjoyed the movie. My husband and I are youth pastors and wacky is part of our like between our own and all those we’ve taken in!
My Ratings: [Good/5]
Franny, age 41
Positive—…we all enjoyed it, with the exception of the disrespectfulness of the children, oldest daughter living with boyfriend, and the end credits. Get your kids out before the credits start.(something about rolling up in ducktape together)
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
Laura, age 38
Neutral—By today’s standards, this movie is fairly clean with many pro-family and moral messages. There were also a lot of darn funny moments. But I won’t be taking my children to see it. Here’s why: The children were often disrespectful and disobedient to their parents. While there were many redeeming scenes in the movie, the children were also often rude and mean-spirited towards each other.

I also observed that the parent’s authority was sometimes presented in a questionable manner. These are all issues we sometimes struggle with in our family on a smaller scale. But the sexual references concerned me the most. Everything from visual references to a vasectomy, drunken intercourse, and pre-martial sex. Again—the content was watered-down by today’s standard but these are topics and images that my pre-teen girls don’t need exposure to.

This is unfortunate since the most entertaining aspects of this movie could have been preserved without the items described above. I’ve given the movie a “neutral” rating since this is a good (not great) movie for adults and MAYBE mid to late teenage kids. But I won’t be taking my children to see it.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
Greg, age 41
Neutral—I can’t bring my self to give this movie a negative rating. It’s well-acted, funny dialogue, great characters. …but here are my concerns: I wanted to like this movie. I enjoy Bonnie Hunt’s work and was hoping for a great family movie. I read the book, which was laugh out loud funny. But I knew the book could not be made in the present day—it would have to be set in the 1910’s. So I knew the movie would be different. My disappointment was with the disrespectful behavior of the kids. It was in the beginning when the kids don’t want to move. It was in the middle when they don’t help out while Mom is gone. It’s in the end, when the one of oldest children tells their dad what he’s done wrong and another asks him in his face regarding her disobedience “Do you have a problem with that?”

But my 7 year old twins won’t see this movie because of the oldest daughter living with her boyfriend and not helping out at home when her family needs her because the parents won’t let her share a room with the boyfriend at the house. If I had read a comment like mine here before seeing this movie, I would have thought “What a stick in the mud reviewer! It’s just a funny movie, get over it.” But I’m a parent who is striving to raise my kids on biblical principles, the first of which is “children obey your parents.”

And I am currently seeing the seeds of rebellion in my kids, and it’s not pretty or funny. I wanted this movie to end with the kids all pitching in and helping the parents. It ended with the parents realizing the kids are more important than their jobs and that’s true, but kids aren’t the only people in the family. I really wanted to like this movie and leave feeling good, but I didn’t.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
Robin, age 34
Negative—…The kids are already wild, indicating past bad parenting. They were entirely disrespectful. It was not the move that made them this way, and they did not change because they moved back. They just got their way. I cite some examples:

The one little girl, the head prankster often wearing a frog ski cap, entirely disobeyed her father’s order *not* to go to a neighbour’s birthday party. The rest followed suit without any protest. One fight with the child called “Fed-Ex” also could have been averted if the father had nipped it in the bud. But no, he let it go on… The father asks her daughter, the one played by Hilary Duff, to help him in parenting. Her response is some stupid speech in which she blames him for all of their problems, prompting the father to leave the room agreeing with her. That is ridiculous. She did not even offer to help him at all, and she just complained and blamed him. The eldest son was gone most of the time and not being helpful, and also was completely unable to handle his own problems at school.

Next, none of the characters were believable… Whenever one or two fought, they all tackled each other and went crazy. No one is that uncivil without completely bad parenting behind it all. Even the most “mature” ones fought. …My last example (though not the final thing wrong with the film) is of the morals they tried to present… The family returns home because everyone is miserable and the parents want to prioritize their children more than their careers. Right, money is not love. …Unfortunately, as good as that moral is, they failed miserably. …Their kids are off-the-wall disobedient wrecks. …Anyway, all the movie really tells us is that the parents acquiesced to their children’s demands to make them happy and obedient. Behaviour continues as long as it works, so I think those two are going to be under twelve assorted size thumbs for the rest of their lives.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/1]
Matthew, age 20
Negative—I was very excited when this movie came out and eager to see it. …however I was very disappointed to see the glamorization of disobedient, disruptive, selfish, self-center children running wild. The premise that the children make the career and residential decisions for a family is disturbing and not one that I was particularly happy for my children to see. Additionally it would have been just as funny to see the dog attach itself to another location on the boyfriends body other than his genitalia.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/3]
Ida Heinen, age 41
Negative—There were many funny gags in this movie, and my family enjoyed it. However, I found the story-line distressing… My biased retelling as a father: The father receives the job offer of his dreams and the wife is supportive—initially. When she also receives a career opportunity, he tries to handle everything and cannot. (I am not saying that wives cannot have careers.) I assumed that when times got rough, the children would learn the value of the family and become more mature and responsible. No. The viewer is to accept the premise that the children’s lives will be ruined if they have to adjust to a new location, make new friends, and work together as a family while their mother is gone.

Therefore, the children do nothing to be supportive or to adjust to the move, but act as “brats” and do what they can to sabotage matters. When everything is in shambles, the father accepts the blame and they all move back to their former house and schools where they are happy once more.

Now, I certainly agree with love before money, parents spending time with their children, putting family well-being above career, etc. However, this movie sells the popular cultural concept of the entitlement of children to whatever they want. Implicit messages include: children rule; their lives are ruined if life is not easy for them; fathers should give up everything to please their families; and mothers can organize things, but fathers cannot.

I did not like those messages and do not find them conducive of Christian values.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/4]
Rod, age 51
Comments from young people
Positive—I was pleasantly surprised… It has a very good view that your family is the most important thing in your life. It also raises the question to parents, “which is more important in your life: your career (you), or loving and supporting your spouse and children.” A great and moving scene in the film is where one of the children runs away from home and Steve Martin’s character finds him. The dad (Steve M’s role) walks right over to his son and gives him a loving embrace. He doesn’t blow up or yell at his son, but cherishes his son.

The other scene that got to me was the one towards the end of the film when the family (mom and all 12 kids) hold up a sign “We Love The Coach” to show the dad that they love and support him, no matter what happens. After seeing this film, I think that I would like to have 6 children (I’m not sure about 12)!

One last great thing that I appreciated was the fact that this film shows the need that children have for both their parents. The parents love each other and the kids love that their parents love each other.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
Carolyn, age 18
Positive—I thought this film was great! It makes you laugh so hard tears stream down your face at one point, and then touches your heart and makes you cry at another. It’s very well-rounded, and I was pleased to find not one cuss-word in the entire movie.
My Ratings: [Good/5]
Megan, age 18
Positive—It was SO funny. Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt were hilarious. Great for the family.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
Alyssa, age 14
Positive—I thought this movie was really good. It was funny and had a good story except, it made it seem like big families are to hard to take care of. My parents have 7 kids and they do a good job keeping us well disciplined and the house well organized. The older kids, in the movie didn’t do anything to help around the house unless they were forced to. Then,they wouldn’t get in trouble if they broke the rules. There was some kissing, but nothing more, and a little bit language. Other than that, this movie was awesome!
My Ratings: [Better than Average/5]
Hannah M., age 12
Positive—This movie is great for the family! Hardly anything objectionable, the main thing being the oldest sister and her boyfriend living together. But, other than that, it is a well made, funny movie!
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
Sydna, age 13
Positive—I believe that this movie portrays a pretty accurate image of a large family. It even does so with out bringing up much objectionable material, which really impressed me because of some of the other movies that come out of Hollywood. All in all I would say this is the best movie based on a big family that I have ever seen. I come from a family of 11 and I still think the movie is accurate… Definitely a good movie to go see as a family!
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
Deborah Nissley, age 15
Positive—…the best movie I have ever seen! There are somethings that are questionable like Nora and Hank are found sleeping together at one point, they don’t actually show anything and their both fully clothed but still. At least, when they walk out in the morning Nora’s father is furious! He yells at them “This house is G-rated!” Well, at least we see this family has some morals. The entire movie is about the father (Steve Martin) wanting to be some big shot football coach, and it’s like, this is so real I mean, finally this is something that could actually happen! FINALLY!!! I would highly recommend this movie to anyone of any age!
My Ratings: Better than Average / 5
Lacie, age 12
Movie Critics
…very strong pro-family tone. And not just that families are valuable. But that large families are valuable… things that pushed it into the PG realm will be navigable for most families…
Bob Waliszewski, Plugged In
…plain vanilla remake …includes some funny moments… perpetually thrown off-kilter by the overacting of Disney maven Hilary Duff
Bill Muller, The Arizona Republic
…Has about 12 good laughs (not all of them cheap) and a pleasant cast, but not much more.
Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
…lighthearted fun…
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times