Tracking Shots


Small-time gridiron coach Steve Martin and aspiring-writer homemaker Bonnie Hunt preside over a biblically big brood of 12, all but one of whom live at home. Performances by Smallville‘s Tom Welling and Lizzie McGuire‘s Hilary Duff, as two of the elder kids, are overshadowed by the antics of the smaller sibs scrambling underfoot—mourning dead frogs, hogging the john, throwing the kitchen into a food storm worthy of that INXS video. Things get even more chaotic when the clan moves to Evanston for Dad’s chance to coach his alma mater’s squad—while Mom goes on a book tour to tout her story of mega-family life. We had a phrase for this kind of fun in Latin class: in “loco” parentis! Adapted from the 1949 memoir by two children of pioneering efficiency experts Frank and Lilliann Gilbreth, the film now has a title that doesn’t really make sense, but it gets modern-day mileage for its even more improbable premise (cf. my important essay “Declining Birth Rate Since 1980: A Problem for Comedy?,” Domestic Policy Journal, January 1985). And solidifying his funnyman rep, Ashton Kutcher appears as oldest child Piper Perabo’s model-actor boyfriend, a delightfully brainless narcissist who also writes songs of Syd Barrett complexity: “Every once in a while/I carve a pumpkin with a knife/made of lollipop sticks.”

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