Disney+’s Cheaper By The Dozen has all the makings of a successful TV show. It features a wholesome family-friendly premise with two great leads in Zach Braff and Gabrielle Union, who command the perfect kind of star power a series like this would need. The film has a mostly-good ensemble of kids that may become the next big sitcom stars. Most notably, though, it has an all-star producer in Kenya Barris, whose eye for network-friendly sappiness that turned Black-ish into a massive sitcom empire is in full effect here. But that’s also a problem with the film. That it’s paced, stitched, and filmed like a TV show, it crams in so much more than any film can service.
Based on the Steve Martin film of the same name based on the novel by Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, this new Cheaper By The Dozen follows the same concept of its predecessors as it explores the life of a family with a dozen children. The film sees Paul and Zoe Baker chase their dream of becoming successful franchise restauranteurs as a family of clashing personalities together. This new version helmed by Black-ish director and creator Gail Lerner and Kenya Barris respectively sees a more diversified Baker family with millennial cultural touches.
Paul Baker, the quintessential white dorky dad, is going through a mid-life crisis. His restaurant has a backlog of bills to pay, he’s not maximizing his profits, he has a dozen kids to feed, and top it all off, his wife’s ex-husband and the biological father of two of his step-kids, Dom, is a glamorous football star who has everything he hasn’t. So when the opportunity to be the next Chef Boyardee comes, Paul takes it, hoping to provide for his family in a way he hasn’t before.
For the next hour and a half, Cheaper By The Dozen rushes through one scenario after another as it tries to hit emotional beats for more than a dozen characters like a TV show would in one entire season. Storylines about racism, stealing, bullying, and dating are all shortchanged simply from the script tackling everything at a breakneck pace. It certainly doesn’t help that some of the plot points don’t fit the homely spirit the film tries to embody from its predecessors. Tiktok, glamour, and high society living are of the few things this next-gen Cheaper By The Dozen wears on its sleeve. Paul moves his family to a giant mansion in Hollywood after his hot sauce hits grocery shelves, it doesn’t quite work as the film’s attempts to engage the idea of excess and wealth fails to make a point.
Thankfully, the cast holds most of the film together with such charming chemistry and wit. Braff and Union have an emotional foothold of Kenya Barris‘ and Jenifer Rice-Genzuk‘s script, which allows them to deepen the hastened drama from the page through earnest performances on screen. The Baker kids are a joy to watch; several of them are so fearless on-screen and steal scenes right from under Braff and Union. Mykal-Michelle Harris, in particular, is a huge stand-out.
For better or worse, sitcom alum Gail Lerner directs Cheaper By The Dozen like it’s an episode of Black-ish, as every scene’s visual language looks ripped from a single-cam sitcom. You’re almost half-expecting Dre and Rainbow to show up at any moment. This isn’t to argue that Lerner’s direction is bad but it’s to point out how peculiar the film looks given how so much of the text is already begging to be just formatted for a serialized show. Perhaps the plan is for this film to be a proof-of-concept of just how great a Cheaper By The Dozen TV series would be.
Once more, Kenya Barris and co. prove how strong their eye is for newly-fashioned wholesome family fun. With a cast as strong as this and relatable growing pains all families experience, Cheaper By The Dozen accomplishes the job it sets out to do in spite of all its shortcomings.