When I think “Cheaper by the Dozen” I often recall memories of Steve Martin, despite the fact that it was originally a film from the 1950s. The enduring story of a family of 12 kids is just wild enough to warrant at least one watch per family (it’s the law!), and that’s pretty much the premise of the 2022 version: a family has tons of kids under the same roof. It doesn’t really evolve much beyond that, and Zach Braff is no Steve Martin.
The only part of the premise that you need to know is that Zoe (Gabrielle Union) and Paul Baker (Zach Braff) are married, and they have a lot of kids (not quite 12 yet, but they count as part of the “dozen”). Outside of one moment that just starts to get poignant with Zoe’s ex-husband, Cheaper by the Dozen doesn’t have a lot to say. It’s mainly filled with zany antics, some cuteness, and enough grand speeches to make the Pearson family from This is Us proud. The thing is, it’s mostly harmless, and a lot more serviceable than I was expecting.
Union is charming throughout and commands the entire film. She has arguably the strongest character and arc, and you can tell she had a lot of fun making the movie; not to mention that she gets the quippiest bits of the script. Most of the time, Braff feels like he’s putting on his best “JD from Scrubs” impression and the character was even written similarly, but he gets by.
“Outside of one moment that just starts to get poignant with Zoe’s ex-husband, Cheaper by the Dozen doesn’t have a lot to say.”
Cheaper by the Dozen’s core foundational issue is that it jumps around way too quickly in an attempt to just force the story. Braff’s character Paul has a successful diner, then he has an idea for a special sauce that can be sold nationally, then he invents said sauce off-screen, then he makes a deal to sell it across the US, and suddenly he has enough money to move into a gated California community.
It happens so quickly that we barely get any time to simmer with the characters, and only see their reactions in chunks. It’s clearly a ploy to get things moving because there are so many family members to juggle, but I would have preferred a more introspective film without so many scene changes: and if the narrative just skipped ahead a bit at the start, because getting there can feel laborious with this runtime.
Having had a teacher in the past that actually had 12 kids in real life, I have to say some of his stories were more entertaining than this 2022 remake. But it does have heart (mostly via Gabrielle Union), and there’s a lot worse family flicks out there.