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Friday, November 25, 2005

Yours, Mine and Ours

Passing by the gi-normous stand-up display for Cheaper By The Dozen 2 in the lobby at the Essex Outlet Cinemas I felt almost dirty going in to see Yours, Mine and Ours. I was cheating on Steve Martin with Dennis Quaid, which all things considered, did seem a fair enough swap, but still... it does come with consequences. The most obvious drawback being that with Steve's brood you only have to keep track of twelve unruly kids. With Dennis' pack, you've got eighteen. But Dennis' family does have Dennis in Navy dress whites, though Steve's family has Tom Welling as eldest son Charlie in tight jeans or (hopefully) just a smile. You can see the conundrum. Both have their similarities, but both have their differences. Both have... oh who am I kidding, they are basically the same movie with different casts though Yours, Mine and Ours wins the kid quotient by sheer numbers.

The first thing I noticed as the movie began is that it took four (!) studios to get this thing off the ground. Granted, the food budget must have been astronomical for the kids on-set alone, but four studios? It seems that it would have made a whole lot more sense to have tapped Planned Parenthood to sponsor this lovefest because by the time the film was over I could just *feel* mental notes being made by men all over the audience to call and make that appointment for a vasectomy ASAP.

The premise is as simple as it was in the original 1968 version. Widow Rene Russo meets up with her former high school sweetheart Dennis Quaid after twenty years apart and they fall instantly back in love (seemingly in one date). As they take a swirl on the dance floor they both dance just as delicately around the subject of the number of their children until Dennis, as Admiral Frank Beardsley breaks down and confesses that since he didn't have enough closets to hide them forever he might as well admit he has eight. Cut to Rene, snorting as if she had just won a hand of poker. She has ten, though in this version most are adopted, allowing for a more diverse cast.


The next scene has Frank and Rene explaining in a series of quick cuts that they have gotten married. Apparently these really are spur-of-the-moment folks since we barely got to know their names and neither sets of kids have met their new step-parent. This being a forcibly family friendly movie no one is regarded as a stepmother or stepfather. Suddenly you either have a new Dad or a new Mom and that's that. Frank and Helen expect instantaneous family bonding without apparently giving it a second thought. It's so "Brady Bunch".

Naturally chaos ensues, but then if it didn't there wouldn't be much of a movie to watch. The children instantly hate one another. The Beardsley brood is all rules and regulations. They fall-in to Dad's pipe whistle at a moment's notice and refer to him as "Admiral." The North Clan, however, runs free range with a collection of cats, dogs, hamsters, birds, and a very large and flatulent pig. Russo's Helen is quick to tout that a home is for "free expressions and not first impressions" which explains why her home looks like ten kids, a bunch of animals and a horny hog live there.

So where is this headed? If you have to ask you've never seen a single episode of any sitcom featuring two or more children and you've certainly never watched Nickelodeon, the children's television network (and one of the studio's responsible for Yours, Mine and Ours). As the parents grow closer together the kids grow more rebellious and hateful in their tricks on one another. Frank's detailed organizational charting that is meant to put teams of North and Beardsley kids together in renovating the huge lighthouse the family has found to call home is really a blueprint for disaster. No sooner is paint, wallpaper, glue, mud, water, and various brushes, air hoses, and small children with pillows (feathered of course) introduced into a single environment than a tsunami of slime is unleashed, leaving the house, the kids, the parents, and even the pig with nary a spot ungooed. Kids in the audience were beside themselves with glee. This is obviously the secret fantasy in every eight year old's heart.

Needless to say, Frank is not nearly as amused or as understanding as Helen, and it quickly occurs to the kids that as much as they dislike one another's families the real enemies here are not each other but the parents. And so the war begins.

The kids plot, scheme, and work diligently at destroying their parents' marriage in escalating capers designed to turn the adults on one another. They start slowly with the mundane (toothpaste caps left off and unexpected tidying up ~ who would ever get upset because their kids clean up a room?! Is this science fiction?) to bigger infractions like pizza and booze parties for every high schooler in town while the parents are at a Naval function.

The plan works, bringing Frank and Helen to each other's throats and the brink of divorce. Of course, this being a family film, the joy of torturing the parents has also brought with it a resounding message. The kids have had to work together to reach their mutual success, and they have actually come to like one another in the process. Now the idea of never seeing each other again hits home, and it is up to them to reunite their parents before it is too late. Preciousness and happy days follow.

For me, I worry about the details. I found myself thinking about Helen. She was a freelance handbag designer with ten children and a small zoo at home. Did she have a gazillion dollar life insurance policy on her first husband? I can't imagine that a freelance purse pusher is making enough money to be wearing fabulous designer gowns every day while feeding her horde and keeping them clothed and in arts and crafts supplies the way that she does. And the Admiral? He has the worst possible housekeeper in history, who spends most of her time in her room drinking and watching wrestling on tv. Sure, he's an Admiral, but he's got eight kids and a nanny to feed. Where is all this money coming from? The mortgage alone on a cliffside, oceanview lighthouse with a minimum of twelve bedrooms has got to be a wee bit pricey in New London, Connecticut. I'm just sayin'. It's questions like this one needs to check at the door if you are going to enjoy Yours, Mine and Ours. It also helps if you've also already have a few kids at home. I think it acts as an anesthetic to the noise, the running, the general hyperactivity you can expect seeing eighteen at once.

I staggered out of the theater and back into the lobby, and one of the young'uns who works at the Essex Outlet Cinemas asked me what I thought of the movie. I told her I thought it was cute but that I liked the original better. She looked at me curiously. I explained it was a remake of a version starring Henry Fonda and Lucy. "Lucy who?" she asked. Suddenly I felt so old. There was a time when there was only one "Lucy" just as today there is only one "Britney" or one "Christina." I volunteered "Lucille Ball?" Nothing. "Henry Fonda?" I repeated. Nothing. "Jane's father?" Nothing. "Peter's father?" Still nothing. Finally, scraping for anything, I tossed out "Bridget Fonda's grandfather?" "Oh," she replied, "That older actress." Kids.

I went home and secretly promised Steve Martin I would try to be gentler with him.

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