Bonnie Hunt, who has often played the mother, big sister, or best friend in films like Beethoven, Jerry Maguire and her own directorial debut Return to Me, is such a charming, winning actress and comedian that you want her movies to do well. Alas, Cheaper by the Dozen, in which she plays the wife of Steve Martin and the mother of 12 children, is a mostly unfunny comedy in which genuine family dynamics are overwhelmed by broad farce — children throwing axes into closet doors, etc.
Directed by Shawn Levy from a formulaic script by Scooby-Doo’s Craig Titley, the film is a typical story about parents being forced to choose between their family and their dream careers. The odd thing is, Hunt’s character has written a book about raising a large brood, and her publisher seems oblivious to the fact that it might be good to build the book’s publicity campaign around the family life, rather than treat the family as something that the mom can ignore for a few weeks.
Given the Catholic flavour that Hunt’s films often have, you might think this family is so big for faith-related reasons — but the film doesn’t pursue that angle. Hunt’s character makes a passing reference to “saying the rosary” when she rattles off a list of other activities her eldest daughter (Piper Perabo) could be engaged in rather than kissing her live-in boyfriend (Ashton Kutcher), and Martin’s character says the girl and her lover are not allowed to sleep together when they visit because “this is a G-rated house,” but that’s about as far as that goes.