Yours, Mine and Ours

Posted: Nov 23, 2005 12:01 AM

After the box office success of Cheaper by the Dozen last year, it must have seemed like a good idea to some Paramount executive to green light a remake of the 1968 family classic Yours, Mine, and Ours.

Clearly, the Steve Martin/Bonnie Hunt hit proved that what Americans want to see on the silver screen are families just like their own… only much, much bigger. So perhaps in a kind of offspring arms race, Paramount’s Yours, Mine, and Ours has countered Fox’s Cheaper with an extra six kids. The result is about as chaotic as any endeavor involving 18 children might be.

The film opens on Coast Guard Admiral Frank Beardsley (Dennis Quaid) reconnecting with his high school sweetheart, the free-spirited handbag designer Helen North (Renee Russo) at their high school reunion. A short spin around the dance floor reveals that the pair have a lot more in common than simply their alma mater. It turns out the last 30 years have left both widowed and with a passel of kids to raise alone. Frank has eight (produced via the old-fashioned method) and Helen, in a slightly updated twist, has 10, about half of which are adopted.

Another equally quick turn under the disco ball rekindles the former flame and leaves the two head-over- heels in love. And so, without so much as introducing one another to their broods, Frank and Helen elope. But though the two become one, their parenting styles prove to be about as far apart as the East is from the West. With Frank’s rigid military approach to discipline and Helen’s bohemian anything-goes avoidance of it, they have their kids running in circles (literally, unfortunately). Unable to bear their newly expanded family, the youngsters take it upon themselves to break up their parents’ hasty union.

Though the premise itself feels slightly outdated, like Cheaper, Yours had the potential to be a great afternoon out for the whole family. Sure Dennis Quaid and Renee Russo are no Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball, but they’re not too shabby considering the talent pool casting directors have to work with these days. Too bad it doesn’t live up to that potential. Rather than follow the straight and sure track that Fonda and Ball had laid down, the screenwriters of this new version turn every genuine moment of comedy into a gooey, slap-sticky mess.

The problem is one far too prevalent in today’s society in general: rather than allowing the children to support the story of the adults, the adults exist only to support the story of the children. Whereas the original film focused on the relationship between Frank and Helen, the remake focuses on the relationships between the kids--how they don’t get along with their new siblings, how their personalities clash, how they become rivals at school, and so on. So instead of creating a smart, sweet comedy the entire family can enjoy, director Raja Gosnell (Home Alone 3, Big Momma’s House and Scooby Doo) offers the audience a bland, obvious collage of pratfalls that no one will enjoy.

But even worse than bad filmmaking is bad filmmaking that promotes a bad message. Throughout the movie, Frank, who enforces rules and sets boundaries for his eight children, is made to look like the bad guy in contrast to Helen, who allows her 10 to “express themselves” in whatever obnoxious manner their little pre-adolescent minds see fit.

As the tension increases, we are meant to see Frank and his “rules” as the source of the conflict. It's not that there’s a pig running loose in a messy house that’s the problem; it’s that Frank and his children can’t embrace the fact that there’s a pig running loose in a messy house. If only the Beardsleys could learn to be as “enlightened” and “true to themselves” as the Norths, they too would know that everyone has a right to decorate the family space (read: the house) in any way that makes them feel comfortable in it.

Sorry, but I’m with the uptight kids--spray painting the walls of your home is not art, its vandalism.

So even if your kids do appreciate Nickelodeon antics of slime, slipping, and silliness--unless you want them to get the message that curfews stifle children and spanking is always abuse--don’t let them near this family feud.