You wouldn't know it from watching this new version of the story, but there really was a widow with eight children named Helen North, and a widower with ten children named Frank Beardsley, and they really did marry each other. They even went on to have one more child together. Helen wrote a book about their experiences managing a family of 21, called Who Gets the Drumstick?, and it became a 1968 film called Yours, Mine and Ours, starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda. That film is sometimes credited with inspiring The Brady Bunch, which premiered the following year; but this new version is more of a follower than a leader, since it was almost certainly produced to capitalize on the success a couple years ago of Cheaper by the Dozen, a large-family comedy which itself was a remake of a 1950 movie, and which will be back in the form of a sequel just four weeks from now.
So many large-family movies, so little time. Perhaps they should merge into one big super-duper-extended family. Or maybe the two franchises should have a showdown. We've had Freddy vs. Jason and Alien vs. Predator. Maybe it's time for a Bakers vs. Beardsleys movie?
Anyway, the original Yours, Mine and Ours no doubt took its own movie-ish liberties with the facts. But it at least recognized that the story of Helen and Frank and their combined offspring was the story of a conservative family that stood out in a culture of increasing sexual liberalism. In fact, the first part of the 1968 edition is so riddled with innuendo, you might wonder if it deserves the tag "family film." Helen and Frank, both hitting the dating scene for the first time in decades, are distinctly uncomfortable with the voracious sexuality of the 1960s; but the film reaches its thematic climax when Helen goes into labor and Frank helps her down to the car, all while giving her oldest daughter a lesson in the meaning of love, sex and commitment. It's not going to bed with a man that proves you're in love with him, he tells her, it's getting up in the morning and facing the challenges that await you—starting, in this case, with the challenges of raising your own absurdly large family.
Alas, that moral sensibility—and the small, realistic touches that made the original film so endearing—are almost completely missing from the new Yours, Mine & Ours, which replaces the "and" with an ampersand, switches the numbers around so that Frank now has eight children and Helen has ten (six of which are adopted, Mia Farrow-style), and turns the entire story into a series of physically painful pratfalls and extremely unlikely plot twists.
One thing the new film does have going for it, though, is its two stars. Rene Russo and Dennis Quaid are more engaging and perhaps even more believable as parents, and as lovers, than Ball and Fonda were. So perfect are they for each other, in fact, that writers Ron Burch and David Kidd (Head over Heels) cheat a fair bit to get these lovebirds together as quickly as possible. In this version of the story, Frank and Helen are former high-school sweethearts who meet by chance in a restaurant, and then again on a boat at their 30th anniversary high-school reunion; so they already know each other. At their second meeting, they discover they have large families and dead spouses in common, and, despite knowing nothing else about the courses their lives have taken in the past three decades, they spontaneously get married, right then and there. So much for the courtship!
Needless to say, both sets of children are a little put out to discover that they have to move to a new home and blend with another family, all because their mom or dad happened to bump into someone that they, the children, have never met. To make matters worse, Frank is a Coast Guard admiral who has disciplined his children pretty well ("Permission to play, admiral?" asks one), whereas Helen is a progressive, artsy, group-hugging, share-your-feelings-in-the-family-circle type who lets her children (and her animals) do whatever they want. And apparently spanking is just one of the many, many issues that Frank and Helen neglected to discuss in those few hours they had together before they got married.
So, at first, it is the children who clash with one another—with Frank, typically, caught in the crossfire. One minute he's knocked off his boat by an errant sail's boom, which in turn was caused somehow by one of the kids puking on the deck. The next, he's jumping on a warehouse-store forklift driven by two of the younger boys, who steer his head into a series of boxes, before dumping him into a swimming pool full of patented Nickelodeon green slime. And not long after that, he comes home to a paint-fight between the two sets of children, and his attempt to intervene quickly becomes yet another messy accident. But it isn't long before the children realize that, if they want to be rid of each other, they will have to break up their parents first. And so they unite against their common enemy, making a mess of Dad's life and tidying up Mom's, and letting each think it's the other's fault.
All of this, of course, is awfully contrived. And it isn't only the children and their parents who behave irresponsibly and make life-changing decisions without consulting the people who would be most affected by them. Frank's commandant (Rip Torn) promotes him to a position that would require him to spend a lot of time away from home—and he does this, without warning, at a trustees' dinner attended by Helen and dozens of other people. Frank is then put in the embarrassing position of turning down the promotion in front of everyone, so that he can be with his family. But it isn't long before the children's scheme succeeds, and relations between the parents begin to sour. However, by then, the children have begun to get used to each other, so they suddenly decide to try to save their parents' marriage.
And so the plot throws in one sudden reversal after another. The film is directed in typically dull, overblown, idiotic fashion by Raja Gosnell, the man responsible for Big Momma's House and both of the Scooby-Doo movies, and at times it looks just clunky. The sea and sky behind the Beardsley lighthouse have a distinctly artificial, computer-generated look, and it matches the artificial feel of the film as a whole. Young kids might like the film, what with its food fights and all, and parents in a pinch might turn to the film as a babysitter, but really, that would be not unlike feeding your kids a bowl of marshmallows while the beer party goes on downstairs. This movie is every bit as junky, and that ain't good.Discussion starters
- What does this film say about the relationship between adults and children? Who has more of an influence over the other? Do the children learn from the adults, or vice versa? Would you have accepted the romance between the parents if they had not been high-school sweethearts first?
- What do you think of the way the grown-ups in this story make impetuous decisions that affect other people's lives, without checking with those other people first? Note how Frank and Helen get married, how Frank's boss promotes him, and how Frank turns down the promotion—all without consulting their co-workers or families. Is it good to make these decisions on your own, sometimes? What input should other people have?
- Regarding the parents' debate about spanking, do you think the film sides more with Frank, the stern disciplinarian, or with Helen, who lets her children do whatever they like? If the film seems to take an "anti-violence" stance on this issue, what do you make of the later scene where the children band together to threaten some bullies?
- What do you make of the absence of religion from this story, even at the wedding? How likely is it that a family this large would not have an explicitly religious component?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Yours, Mine & Ours is rated PG for some mild crude humor. Lots of mess is made, with the help of green slime, sandbags, paint, food, seasickness-induced vomit, and other substances. Christian rock band Hawk Nelson plays the band that performs at the house party hosted by the children, without their parents' knowledge, while their parents are away. Linda Hunt plays a nanny who swills a martini while watching wrestling.
Photos © Copyright Paramount Pictures
Copyright © 2005 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet
from Film Forum, 12/01/05
Yours, Mine & Ours resurrects a 1968 comedy which starred Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda. This remake, with Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo as the parents of a modern-day "Brady Bunch" blended family, just doesn't cut it.
"It's refreshing to see a story that so strongly supports intact families," says Tom Neven (Plugged In), "and both parents and children learn important lessons about love, patience and the law of unintended consequences." But he can't decide who's supposed to enjoy this movie. "The Nickelodeon slapstick is not likely to appeal to teens. The conflict among the older teens is not likely to appeal to younger kids. And a bit of gratuitous though minor sexual content and some borderline language will likely have families thinking about whether they want to make Yours, Mine & Ours theirs."
Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) says, "Despite a heart-tugging ending, director Raja Gosnell relies way too much on unrealistic slapstick. … Apart from some mild innuendo, there's nothing objectionable here from a moral standpoint. But you'll be better off renting the original. Even youngsters, we bet, will intuit the difference between that fine film and this dull, unfunny remake."
Lisa Rice (Crosswalk) says, "Audiences will just have to decide whether they care enough about the goal of family unity for this motley bunch, and whether it is worth the slapstick headaches to get there."
But Greg Wright (Hollywood Jesus) has a different perspective: "We can carp about Paramount's lack of originality; or we can be grateful that kids today can relive some of the fun that we enjoyed when we were younger—in the theatre, not at home watching decades-old movies on DVD."
Mainstream critics rate it among the worst films of the year.from Film Forum, 12/22/05
Gene Edward Veith (World) says, "Instead of witty dialogue, we have unfunny slapstick. Instead of living characters, we have cultural stereotypes. The ideological clash is portrayed as if it really shouldn't matter and so is never resolved, while still overwhelming the warmer family themes. Forget the remake and rent the original."