You know that remake you asked for? The re-do of the 1968 Lucille Ball/Henry Fonda comedy “Yours, Mine and Ours”? Well, it just came in. But I’m sorry, there must have been a mistake at the factory, because this remake looks exactly like the “Cheaper by the Dozen” remake from a couple years ago. I apologize for that. We’ll give it to you half-price, what do you say?
The major advantage that “Yours, Mine & Ours” (the remake uses the time-saving ampersand) has over the “Cheaper by the Dozen” sequel due out four weeks from now is that it’s coming out first. There is an audience for PG-rated movies about families with a dozen-plus children, of course, but I doubt anyone wants to see two such movies within the space of a month. I know I don’t. And I liked “Cheaper by the Dozen”!
And I like “Yours, Mine & Ours,” too, or at least certain elements of it. It has a certain hapless charm, and while too much of its humor relies on Dennis Quaid falling face-first into puddles of things, it also has some clever riffs on the Red state/Blue state rivalry that exists within the film’s central household.
You see, Frank Beardsley (Quaid), an admiral in the Coast Guard and a widower, runs a tight ship. His eight children, ranging in age from 4-ish to 17-ish, exhibit personalities much like his, the ones in high school being cheerleaders and student body presidents. Everyone gets good grades. The youngest kids call their father “admiral.” There is not a rebel in the bunch.
Having just relocated the family to his hometown of New London, Conn., Frank runs into his high school sweetheart Helen North (Rene Russo), a daft designer of handbags who is also recently widowed. She has 10 kids (four “hers” and six adopted), and their house is a chaotic melting pot. Like the Beardsleys, the Norths have taken on their parent’s personality as their own — musicians, artists, poets, and so forth. They’re the kind of people who spray-paint a rosebush and call it art.
Frank and Helen are each hesitant to mention how large their broods are, for fear it will scare the other off. It has the opposite effect, though: Their first kiss in 30 years comes immediately after they reveal how many children they have. Big families are an aphrodisiac!
They are soon married and the two clans move into an old lighthouse, the only building in New London that can hold them all (short of a hotel, I guess). While the parents are in post-honeymoon bliss, oblivious to the powder keg they’ve created, the two groups of children hate each other. (“Mom gets married, we get drafted,” says one of the North children of the Admiral’s strict way of governing his affairs.)
But there is a brief truce in the war of preppies vs. hippies, long enough for the factions to join forces. In a sort of reverse “Parent Trap,” the children plot to break their parents up so that the families can go back to their separate lives. Frank and Helen have thus far let their love blind them to their differences. The kids’ plan is to force them to notice how opposite they are.
Some of these children, you’ll recall, are in high school. It seems unlikely that kids of that age would enact such a plan so calculatingly. (Teenagers usually do stupid things spur-of-the-moment, not after careful planning.) And the kids under 6 would probably get along just fine, don’t you think? The new family just means more kids your own age to play with, doesn’t it?
Anyway, their ideas for driving a wedge between Mom and Dad range from the tedious (they start a big paint fight while refurbishing the house) to the inspired (having two of the youngest boys walk around wearing dresses while they discuss having a tea party is sure to raise Coast Guard Dad’s eyebrows). Some of their methods show more insight into the differences between liberals and conservatives than do some movies that are actually ABOUT that conflict (like “Rent,” for example).
It all ends well, of course, with the kids finding they like each other after all and Frank and Helen realizing their differences don’t matter, and there is an abundance of hugging in the final scenes, a la TV’s “Full House” (which also would have been a good name for this movie).
The kids are so numerous that some of them don’t even get personalities — someone mentions in passing that two of the adopted sisters are from New Delhi, and that’s all we ever know of them — but the parents, played with such charisma by Quaid and Russo (much less frosty than usual), carry the thing and have a good time, too.
Films that promote a traditional two-parent, multi-kid family as sweetly and proudly as this one does are rare enough that, if you espouse those values yourself, it’s worth seeing the movie just to support the idea of it, even if it’s not exactly a brilliant piece of work. Activist groups decry Hollywood’s ignoring of what they say is the “real” America. Well, here’s a movie that embraces that segment of society — the old-fashioned, no-sex-before-marriage, let’s-raise-a-big-family types — without mocking them or even suggesting any alternatives.
For myself, I’m interested in movies that are good, regardless of whether I agree with their social views. Besides, I see most of them for free, so voting with my pocketbook isn’t really an option. But if that kind of thing matters to you, and if you view your movie-going choices as a way of making a statement, then here’s one of those films you’ve been asking for: clean and pro-family.
Note: The director is Raja Gosnell, whose previous credits will be noted when the U.N. tries him for crimes against humanity: “Home Alone 3,” “Never Been Kissed,” “Big Momma’s House” and two “Scooby-Doo” movies. The writers, Ron Burch and David Kidd, previously paired up on the Freddie Prinze Jr. debacle “Head over Heels.” That “Yours, Mine & Ours” is so innocuous and even funny is proof that people can change.
B- (1 hr., 30 min.; )