Family films are a dying breed. I’ll admit that, by and large, I’m not the genre’s biggest fan. I have no kids of my own, and I don’t feel any particular animosity toward any nieces or nephews that would encourage me to show them what passes for family entertainment. I was force-fed the stuff growing up, and as a little boy I longed for the days when I could slip loose the tyrannical reins of my parents’ video buying habits, when there would be something for me to see that didn’t involve Danny Kaye or Walt Disney. I remember loudly lodging this complaint with my mother in the video store one day. The guy behind the register said that I didn’t need to see all that other stuff (I believe I was at the time lobbying my mother for the chance to rent Die Hard). That guy said that the family stuff I was seeing was the good stuff. Well, I thought he was a liar then; I knew for sure he was a liar when I got older; and Yours, Mine & Ours, the latest subterranean vomit from whatever demon is passing himself off as the family film exec at Nickelodeon or Paramount, only makes me believe more strongly that I’d rather my eventual kids spend their young lives working in a rice paddy than being exposed to even a few minutes of movies like this one.
But just because family films aren’t my cup of whiskey doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate one that’s well done. Jon Favreau came closer to the mark than anyone else when he made Elf a couple years ago, and his latest, Zathura, seems to be creating the same kind of feedback: solid enough story, and good for all ages. Because there’s a difference between being good for all ages, like the first Star Wars or regular flossing, and being superficially aimed at kids but knowingly packed with innuendo to titillate the adults in the audience. Movies like Shrek or Chicken Little are inexplicably hailed as being original when all they do is balance bathroom and vaguely blue humor. These films seem to revel in being deceptive, pretending to be kid-based but slyly winking at the older viewers, making fun of the whole show. Yours, Mine & Ours commits the same sins and more.
Frank (Dennis Quaid) and Helen (Rene Russo) are widow(er)s with large broods: Frank, apparently blessed with hyperactive sperm, fathered eight kids before he lost his wife, and Helen had four of her own before adopting an additional multi-ethnic six. They have a forced meet-cute in a restaurant one evening, run into each other again at their high school reunion, and before you can say “irrational parenting,” they’ve gotten married on the down-low and have bought a giant house to hold their offspring. But wait, he’s an uptight Coast Guard admiral and she’s a purse-designing flower child. Could it be? They’re so comically mismatched that hilarity soon ensues! Oh bliss. Oh miraculous medium of film, I bow at your altar and thank you for giving us something so new, so original, so well-written and enjoyable. (Frank even uses phrases like “hottie” and “the bomb” to clue us into the film’s hip, contemporary spin. Tubular.)
Their kids clash instantly, since Frank runs his troops like the Hitler youth in Sperry top-siders and Helen’s model U.N. coalition of a family likes things messy, as in spray-painting the walls and making sure to set a place at the dinner table for their pet pig. Because nothing says responsible parenting like throwing watermelons around the house and letting the pig sleep indoors. I kept hoping for the newly united family to break new ground. Maybe Frank’s eldest son and Helen’s eldest daughter could hook up, or one of the tweens could develop a heroin problem, or something that would make me for a minute see something funny or smart or creative in this abysmal story. But no such luck. The kids decide that their parents, having ostensibly dealt with the trauma of losing a spouse and the inevitable guilt that arises from moving on, need to be split up, so they engineer a kind of parent trap in reverse, with lots more physical humor and paint spills.
The whole thing claims to be based on the 1968 film of the same name, but it’s clearly an obvious grab at the Cheaper by the Dozen market, a stupid comedy without any humor, aiming for nothing more than 90 minutes of hokey slapstick and cardboard characters going through the motions in a badly constructed story. The film tries for moments of happiness or that warm-fuzzy family vibe, but it falls flat every time. We don’t care enough about these characters to feel for them.
The screenplay is full of too many holes to comprehend. Mrs. Munion (Linda Hunt) lives with Frank and kids before the marriage, and moves in with the large family. Is she Frank’s boyhood housekeeper, or his dead wife’s mother, or in some other way significant? We don’t know, because the film doesn’t say. There’s not one single expository line, a three-second blip of dialogue, to let us know why she’s here. All we know is that she is.
Yours, Mine & Ours is a truly awful film. I thought about entering into a bloody murder-suicide pact with the rest of the audience, something messy enough to shine some bad press on the film that could make people stay away. But I know that there’s no way to keep people from seeing this, even if they know it’s bad, because it’s the only thing out there. Producers seem to have caught wise to the fact that parents will always need to take their kids to family films, so the quality of the films can slip drastically without affecting the attendance at kiddie flicks. In the absence of a good or even mediocre family film, parents are forced to raise their kids on abominable movies like this one.
Daniel Carlson is the L.A. critic for Pajiba and a copy editor for a Hollywood industry magazine. You can visit his weblog, Slowly Going Bald.Yours, Mine & Ours / Daniel Carlson
Film Reviews | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()