Watching the new family comedy Cheaper by the Dozen was an oddly exhilarating experience. On the one hand, it's a mostly unoriginal attempt to capitalize on a veritable stable of popular teen idols (Lizzy McGuire's Hilary Duff, Smallville's Tom Welling, MTV's Ashton Kutcher). On the other hand, the movie is a good-natured, mostly unobjectionable comedy that affirms the importance of family, parental authority, and personal responsibility. And in the end, the latter characteristics win out.
Cheaper by the Dozen (rated PG for language and some thematic elements) stars Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt as the harried parents of 12 children. Dad is a football coach who's just accepted a dream position at a new school; Mom is an author whose career is also taking off. (The film is a remake of a story that has already had several lives, in book, film, and television form.)
Why is it exhilarating? Well, for one, it presents a family that has some challenges, but is nowhere near as dysfunctional as most Hollywood versions of the modern family unit. Mom and Dad love, respect, and care for each other. They don't regret or feel threatened by their brood. In fact, part of the film's message is that even personal fulfillment can, and perhaps should, fall secondary to family responsibility. Shocking stuff, to be sure.
Beyond that, the movie is actually funny. There are too many scenes of utter chaos (and some cringe-worthy bathroom humor), but both Mr. Martin and Ms. Hunt are gifted, often underused comics, and it's fun to see them in such an enjoyable vehicle.