Cheaper by the Dozen, 2022.
Directed by Gail Lerner.
Starring Gabrielle Union, Zach Braff, Erika Christensen, Timon Durrett, Journee Brown, Kyle Rogers, Andre Robinson, Caylee Blosenski, Aryan Simhadri, Leo A. Perry, Mykal-Michelle Harris, Christian Cote, Sebastian Cote, Luke Prael, Brittany Daniel, Cynthia Daniel Hauser, Simeon Daise, Easton Zalamea, and June Diane Raphael.
The raucous exploits of a blended family of 12, the Bakers, as they navigate a hectic home life while simultaneously managing their family business.
While far from a disaster, this new reimagining of the Cheaper by the Dozen series attempting to modernize the story culturally and socially falls prey to some of Disney’s worst impulses. No sane person should have any gripe against the diversification of this large family (the result of divorces and other families coming together) consisting of Black, Indian, and even a disabled child. The issue is that director Gail Lerner (using a screenplay from Kenya Barris and Jenifer Rice-Genzuk; it’s all fodder for a plot that seems progressive but doesn’t know what to do with any of these dynamics.
Conflicts are repeatedly solved as soon as they arise; the instances of bullying and racial divide seem more like afterthoughts than anything, and none of the 12 children carry a distinct personality. There’s also something mildly insulting about Disney professing they care about social issues while having a non-disabled woman (Caylee Blosenski) play the wheelchair-bound teenager here. Doubly so considering a beautiful story like CODA featuring a dynamite all-deaf cast has gone on to throw its weight around in the Oscar race. The extent of her character also comes down to having guitarist ambitions and expressing excitement over having an elevator inside the family’s new luxurious home once their father turns into a big shot breakfast sauce inventor.
I also mean no ill-will toward an actress catching a break and collecting an exciting payday (although I suggest more awareness when choosing roles); when it comes down to it, the casting department and Disney should know better. But they don’t care because much of their push for diversity comes in bad faith and with artistic restraint so they can turn around and donate to alt-right freak shows. And suppose by some miracle of a chance, the actress simply does not have photos in her wheelchair on social media and perhaps has an invisible condition. In that case, I do apologize, although it seems unlikely. I also do believe that the actor most suited for a role should receive it, but times are also changing, and absolutely nothing is gained in this situation from casting someone able-bodied. A movie touting itself as centered on a “blended family” has no excuse for cutting corners like this.
Setting aside personal disputes, Cheaper by the Dozen is the overly cutesy, flat reimagining one might have expected. Gabrielle Union is Zoey Baker, a mother growing increasingly concerned that as her husband Paul ascends the rankings of the culinary world while working alongside a pair of shady investors, his assistance around the house and engagement with the kids will fizzle out. She also has reasonable cause for concern, and not just because there are 12 of these rascals who vary in age. Zoey’s ex-husband Dom (Timon Durrett) became a basketball superstar and fell off the personal side of things. However, he does make a solid relationship with his daughter Daja (Journee Brown), who seeks a scholarship to follow in her father’s footsteps. Meanwhile, he doesn’t know much about his younger son DJ (Andre Robinson), who has a more nerdy set of hobbies that might frustrate dad.
Everyone is mainly left off in the background, although the film tries to give everyone at least one noteworthy moment. But it’s all so scattered that none of it registers as involving or beneficial to younger viewers, even when the third act starts to take more seriously the racial parameters and how Paul, despite being a well-meaning endlessly loving father, simply cannot relate to the Black experience of moving to a wealthy white neighborhood. It’s also not funny, with plenty of cringe sequences playing up Paul having a bit of an identity crisis while trying to make a splash with his breakfast restaurant and sauce concoctions. Parts of Cheaper by the Dozen has its heart in the right place, but the filmmakers bite off more than they can chew in terms of children and social themes. Most importantly, none of the hijinks make an impression.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com