Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Movie – The Brady Bunch Movie (1995)

There is a group of Americans, all within a 10-15 year age range, that grew up watching The Brady Bunch TV show, either as it was broadcast, or in syndication afternoons after school.  I am one of them.  This show was hugely popular among my friends and we wouldn’t think about missing an episode.  It had jokes for kids, a fantasy goodie-goodie blended family when so many of our own families were breaking up, and it had a happy resolution at the end of every episode.  Yes, even as kids we knew it was corny, but that didn’t matter; it’s what we wanted, and sometimes even needed, to see.  Flash forward twenty years and a movie version of the show was done.  It was hugely liked by the people in this demographic…and left most everyone else scratching their heads as to what the heck they were watching.

I admit that I was worried when I heard they were going to make a Brady Bunch movie.  There had been several spectacular failures of TV shows being done as movies prior to this (i.e. Dragnet, Car 54).  As it turns out, I liked The Brady Bunch Movie a lot.  The secret was that it wasn’t either an attempt at a straight re-creation of the show or an attempt to turn it into a joke, but instead it walked the line between them.  There’s a big difference between turning a well-liked show into a joke, and in doing a loving parody of it.

For those who have never watched the show, it originally aired from 1969 to 1974, with spin-offs and specials continuing for a while after the show went off the air.  This meant that the mid 1990s (20 years later) was pretty much the perfect time to do a movie of it.

The premise is outlined in the opening song – a mother with three girls marries a man with three boys “and that’s how we all became the Brady Bunch.”  Episodes would feature minor squabbles among the kids, with a loving mother and wise father to guide them to doing what’s right.  There was also a housekeeper named Alice that provided additional comic relief.  It was very much a product of the 1970s, especially the clothes they wore and the “trouble” the kids got into being still really innocent.

The movie did a very smart thing by asking, “what would happen if this family was transported to the present (mid 1990s) with all the drugs, carjackings, etc., but still acted and dressed exactly like they did on the TV show?”  In addition, the movie uses a lot of touches from the best-liked episodes of the original show, whether it’s the youngest girl’s lisp, the middle boy’s breaking voice, the oldest boy’s attempts to be cool, the oldest girl getting her nose broken by a thrown football, the middle girl being jealous of how pretty the oldest girl is, or the youngest boy wanting to crack down on crime (i.e. stolen pencils) at his school.

The father Mike was played by veteran actor Gary Cole and he does a dead on impression of original actor Robert Reed as the character.  It was really uncanny.  Shelley Long was cast as the mother Carol.  The rest of the cast was composed of relative unknowns who were chosen more for their resemblances to the original actors as for anything else.  Among these are the oldest boy Greg, played by Christopher Daniel Barnes.  He was born and grew up in Maine.  He started acting as a boy and his family final moved to support his career when he was in his early teens. 

Also in the cast was Christine Taylor as oldest sister Marcia.  If ever a person was born to play a role, she was born to play Marcia Brady.  Not only did she resemble the original actress, but she even talked the same.  And it wasn’t a voice she was doing for the movie; she really talked with the same soft tones in real life.  She’s probably better known now as being the wife of Ben Stiller and for making appearances in his films.  They got married in 2000 and have two kids.  Stiller is living the dream of every boy that was his age – he married Marcia Brady.

As anyone my age can tell you, the other siblings are Peter, Bobby, Jan, and Cindy.  At one time I read an article about how horrible Americans’ knowledge of their own government was.  They asked people to name as many of the nine Supreme Court Justices as they could.  The results were not pretty.  Then to compare to it, they asked people to name the six kids from the Brady Bunch and the results for that were much, much higher.  Of course, the Supreme Court is only occasionally as funny as the Brady Bunch was, and nowhere near as beloved.

In the movie, the Bradys are the last holdout in the neighborhood to selling their house to make way for a mall.  A neighbor (Michael McKean) is conspiring against them to make them lose their house.  In the finest tradition of the television show they’ve got a very short amount of time to come up with a large sum of money to save their home.  Will they be able to do it?

The movie has cameos from some of the original cast, including Florence Henderson, Barry Williams, Ann B. Davis, and Christopher Knight.  (Knight’s was a “blink and you’ll miss it” appearance.)  Scenes with the other surviving members of the cast were apparently also filmed, but not used in the finished movie.  The film also features cameos from members of the 1960s band The Monkees.  They have fun with the fact that Marcia (on the show) was the local President of the Davy Jones Fan Club.  In the movie she convinces him to play a school dance and while all the teenage girls stand around wondering who the heck he is, all the forty-something female teachers rush the stage and start screaming.

There are a ton of little jokes for the fans of the show.  At one point Mrs. Brady is calling for their dog Tiger and wonders where he went.  In the show they had a dog named Tiger for a while then he suddenly just stopped appearing…even though his doghouse was still in the Astroturf covered back yard.  Watch the closing nine-way split screens with the cast recreating the opening of the TV show.  Every single one features jokes.  I kept rewinding and watching each square separately.  My favorite is when the original Mrs. Brady (Florence Henderson) shows up in her original square with Shelley Long, hands her a bottle of Wesson oil and winks at her.  Long then exits her square, shows up in the square of Gary Cole (Mr. Brady) with the Wesson oil, and pulls him out of the frame presumably to do something naughty.  Aside from the obvious, the joke here is that Henderson practically had a second career as the spokeswoman for Wesson oil in TV ads after the show ended.

Like the TV show, the movie is also a product of its time.  Watch for a small appearance by a very 1990s RuPaul as one of the teachers at the school.  Also watch for an early appearance by Alanna Ubach as Marcia’s “best friend” who always wants to sleep over.  The Brady’s naivety is so large that no one, not even Marcia, realizes that Ubach’s character is a lesbian and that she has some serious hots for Marcia – as does every boy Marcia meets, too.  She is oblivious to all of it, even after she is taught to French kiss.

As I mentioned at the top, this is the kind of movie that probably best appeals to a certain group of people who watched the original show.  Since I happen to be in that group, I liked it quite a bit.  If you are outside that group, go ahead and try this film, but be prepared to not get it.  For everyone else who did watch the show, I highly recommend this film.

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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  1. Yeah, this movie's supergoofy, but you're right, it does have its own little charm.

    1. They basically took the regular Brady Bunch vibe and turned it up a notch or two on the squarishness and naivety side.

  2. This movie was a ton of fun. I loved how they changed from video to film to accentuate the strange nature of their world. They made fun of the show without being cruel. Great film Chip.

    1. "They made fun of the show without being cruel."

      I completely agree and that is why I think I liked it so much.

      FYI - this comment went to Spam, too. I've marked each of your comments as "Not Spam", so I'm not sure why this is happening. I get an email with every comment, and I respond to all of them (except the occasional troll), so if you don't see your comment appear right away, rest assured I will get it in the right place to appear when I respond to it.