The Brady Bunch Movie

1995, Movie, PG-13, 95 mins

Review

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THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE is a funny, savvy, camp yet family-friendly look at the Generation-X TV icons. As if they had been freeze dried in 1974--complete with perms and garish polyester print outfits--"The Brady Bunch" have been reconstituted to face the 1990s.

Wicked real estate developer Mr. Dittmeyer (Michael McKean) wants to buy the Brady home. When they won't sell, he steals a $20,000. property tax bill from their mail, hoping that when they fail to pay up they'll be evicted.

With only a few days left before the bill comes due, Dittmeyer springs the bad news on the Bradys. Dad Mike (Gary Cole) assures mom Carol (Shelley Long) that she needn't worry about the money, since all he has to do is sell one of his architectural designs. Unfortunately, they're all on a par with his design for his own home, which has only one bathroom for six kids.

Thanks to Cindy the tattletale (Olivia Hack), the kids find out about the financial crisis and set out to raise the money. Marcia (Christine Taylor) figures teen modeling will be lucrative, but an errant football pass breaks her nose. Greg (Christopher Daniel Barnes) plans to work as rock star Johnny Bravo, but his song--"Clowns never laughed before/beanstalks never grew"--makes David Cassidy sound funky. Meanwhile, sibling rivalry rears its ugly head: Jan (Jennifer Elise Cox) feels overshadowed by always-perfect Marcia. A guidance counselor (RuPaul) suggests Jan still her inner voices by stressing her individuality. At the big school dance, "the new Jan Brady" shows up in a huge Afro wig. Marcia upstages her by arriving with Monkee Davy Jones. Jan runs away from home, and is coaxed back by sound advice from a sympathetic truck driver (Ann B. Davis).

At the eleventh hour, the kids decide to enter the school talent contest. In their fringed and beaded day-glo jumpsuits, they perform a feel-good, pop confection and win. The prize money saves the homestead, and everyone learns important lessons about honesty, self-esteem and family loyalty.

When TV's "The Brady Bunch" debuted in 1969, it was just another sitcom in which the kids got into laughably innocent trouble, realized the error of their ways and were counseled by their firm yet understanding, Dad. By series' end at the height of the Watergate era, the Bradys were already an anachronism: An artificial island of bland normality in a sea of dysfunction. As the show lived on in reruns and American families became ever more fragmented, the Bradys emerged as icons. A generation--the one that knows the words to the "Brady Bunch" theme song, but not the national anthem--simultaneously mocked their goofy innocence and secretly wished they had a family just like that.

The talents responsible for THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE know exactly what was funny about the original TV show: nothing. The Bradys were utterly banal, and unfailingly cheerful and the film's one big joke is the juxtaposition of their "sunshine day" optimism and the smoggy cynicism of modern day LA. It recreates the show's most trivial details (the tilt of Carol's head, the Astroturf lawn, the macrame vests) with loving care, viewing it all with sly derision. Under Betty Thomas' direction, the cast makes imitation the sincerest form of mockery. Cindy's lisp makes her almost unintelligible. Peter's (Paul Sutera) changing voice is the tip of a pubescent iceberg. Tres cool Greg litters his speech with "groovy" and "far out" the way Mamet's characters curse. Gary Cole eerily mimics the late Robert Reed, but this new Mike's homilies are just confusing babble. Just beneath THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE's nostalgic surface lies a dark truth about the myth of American family life, there for anyone who wants to see it. leave a comment

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