CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN

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Cheaper by the Dozen, easily the most militantly offensive, pro-family horror show I have seen this year, would have topped my worst of the year list had I not jumped the gun and shipped it off to Ruthless Headquarters ahead of schedule. While other films on that list pushed my endurance to the breaking point, bored me to tears, and challenged my ability to sit still for two hours at a time, Cheaper by the Dozen made me sweaty with anger. So violently enraged, in fact, that I’m running to the doctor tomorrow to get the old snip-snip that will forever end all hopes of biological offspring. By turns exhausting, insulting, and pathologically right-wing, this is the sort of movie that should help mobilize all thinking people to drive large families, babies, teenagers, and breeding Catholics into the sea. Having been philosophically committed to abortion rights and the use of birth control for all of my adult life, I am now prepared to take up arms and live my beliefs. Whether that involves violent revolution or not remains to be seen, although I can assure my readers that they should prepare for random attacks and bloody reprisals in the near future. For this turn of events I must thank Steve Martin and company, unholy participants in a film of unrivaled propagandistic obscenity.

Put simply, this film is a “days and nights” chronicle of two well-meaning, overwhelmed parents (Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt) and their twelve children. That fact alone is enough to inspire a boycott, but the film manages to push beyond its revolting premise by literally romanticizing chaos. True, we watch the family spin out of control — screaming fights, vomiting on the floor, flying food, broken chandeliers, stained clothing — but in the end we are meant (forced, lest we feel like heels) to care about the people we see. They sacrifice, live on that fine line between sanity and madness, and put aside their hopes and dreams for the good of the family. By “good,” of course, it is meant that dad’s dream job of coaching his alma mater and mom’s book tour must take a back seat to one child’s dead frog, another child’s desire to return to the small town where he left his girlfriend, and another child’s hope to have help with his homework. But that is the universe this film inhabits: adults are selfish, vain beasts if they pursue their desires, but children are precious, innocent angels if they shout and pout for theirs. As such, there is a loss of proportionality. Earning more money, having adult conversations, and taking a bite out of life are silly, trivial concerns that simply cannot compare to runny noses, tracking mud on the carpet, and fixing breakfast for unruly brats.

The deck is also stacked in terms of how the “child-unfriendly” are portrayed. When the Baker clan moves from rural Midtown to the suburbs of Chicago, the first people we and the Bakers meet are snooty, humorless assholes who are also — take a seat when I say this — vegetarians. It seems that the Beef Council now acts in the same capacity as The Catholic Legion of Decency or the Hays Code in the 1930s. Moreover, the herbivores are selfishly raising only one child, who is shown to be lonely, unhappy, and unable to run and play like a “normal” boy. This poor lad has to endure chess lessons, reading, and proper grammar, which as we know are tools of the devil. At least his mom is fucking hot, though. The Baker children, on the other hand, have their parents by the balls and get to do whatever they want. Apparently lacking any sense of discipline, the Baker brats are seen as authentic, as they have managed to make their parents realize that once they are born, everything related to an adult world is unclean and hence off limits. The neighbors live in relative peace and quiet, but such an atmosphere is more like a dusty museum than anything approaching paradise. ‘Tis better, it seems, to be busy 24 hours a day with the needs of children, lest one get soft and forget that having a family is the next best thing to seeing the face of god.

Other unrealistic elements abound. The Baker mother’s book about her family is published instantly, and just as quicky hits the top of the bestseller list. Before we can blink, she’s on her way to New York to hit the talk show circuit. Of course, she is troubled by her absence and, despite the fact that the book tour only lasts two weeks, the household she left behind turns upside down and is on the verge of complete collapse. This leads to trouble for the dad, as his new job is threatened by the stress of home. Predictably, he is asked to choose between his family and the job of a lifetime, with the result remaining uncertain only to those with advanced retardation. But why must there be a choice? As we see, the mother tries to earn her own money for a change and fulfill a lifetime dream, but is punished with overwhelming guilt. Message? Women need to breed and stay home. Careers are for man-hating lesbians and Communists who eat their young. The father continues to work after resigning from something that made him happy, but this new job does not threaten his role as a committed father. We never learn what that job is in the end, although it doesn’t matter because it must be enough, even in this tight labor market, to keep a family of fourteen in luxury.

Again, there is no fucking way to make raising twelve children anything less than on-the-rack torture, rivaled only by having one’s skin rubbed raw by a cheese grater, but it is made even worse when the kids are, without exception, demonic hellraisers. They are mean, violent, sassy, self-absorbed, and impossible to control. They never sit still, do not utter anything that isn’t some derivation of a murderous yell, and, as far as I can tell, have no interest in reading, learning, or taking a nap. These are children all-too-common in our PlayStation-saturated, functionally illiterate world. But when we are asked to take these kids as they are and love them anyway? What twisted world is this? After enduring Cheaper by the Dozen, the story of Andrea Yates (the Texas chick who drowned her young ones, for the uninformed among you) makes perfect sense. I’m ready to kill someone else’s children after merely watching a movie, so imagine what living that sort of life might do to one’s sanity. But no, it’s all fun and games with that wacky Steve Martin leading the procession. And then there is Ashton Kutcher as the eldest daughter’s boyfriend, who is remarkably sympathetic in that he doesn’t want children, which of course makes him deranged. And hell, the loony liberal also insists on organic orange juice! There are so many ways to make Kutcher a repellant creep (his presence alone is enough), but the film would have us believe that his worst quality is his hostility to the idea of family.

So if you are like the mother of this film — your life’s ambition is to pump out as many children as possible while maintaining an athlete’s physique — then check out Cheaper by the Dozen. For me, it was the last film I will see at my local theater, as I am finally moving out of my community of migrant workers, meth-labs, and rumbling low-riders. Perhaps it wasn’t the best way to say goodbye, but as the theater was where I saw most of the garbage I eventually reviewed for Ruthless, I am a bit sentimental as I depart. Therefore, it is fitting that the final film I saw at the Thornton Town Center featured both Ashton Kutcher and Hilary Duff, #1 and #10 respectively on my year-end death list. It’s also where I sat through my initial Ruthless assignment, the carnage that was The Master of Disguise. It’s been quite a run; now my suffering must be elsewhere, among the crude and the crass of Denver’s downtown. Let the fun begin.

About Matt

Matt is the site’s Longest Serving Critic and chief misanthrope. He divides his time between classics of cinema and the most ridiculous movies he can find on Redbox.
Follow Matt: @mattcale52