Tuesday, July 7, 2009
It's odd to think that a satirical movie based on a 70s sitcom could be so prototypically 90s, but The Brady Bunch Movie seemed to defy these decade-spanning odds; the movie oozed 90sness from its every frame. The entire premise was based on the contrast--the groovy, carefree 70s versus the dark, grungy, Gen-X-infested 90s. Let the jabs begin.
The Brady Bunch Movie was a mish-mosh of many of the sitcom's episodes and storylines woven into a 90 minute movie, turning every cheesy Brady trope into an easy punchline. The movie was not cruel or malicious in its mockery of the original series. In fact, original series' creator and producer Sherwood Shwartz served as writer and producer on the 1995 cinematic reincarnation. The film managed to successfully poke fun at the original series without shredding it apart. Well, without completely shredding it apart. In truth, the Brady family became fairly easy retrospective comic targets.
Of course, to get away with this brand of parody required extreme attention to detail. The only real way to give the Bradys their satirical due was to exaggerate the characters while staying (mostly) true to their original traits and mannerisms. After all, the very notion of satire requires humor and irony based on the original work. Hence, the 1995 movie makers worked tirelessly to adhere as much as possible to the look and feel of the original show:
Original series opening (5th season):
The Brady Bunch Movie opening:
As you can imagine, a lot of effort must have gone into the casting process to find suitable matches for each of the original actors. The new actors, though certainly in caricatures of the original roles, stayed true to the (usually) good intentions of their characters (hints of the step-sibling romance between Greg and Marcia probably don't qualify, unless we're looking at the original actors' real-life romance). Mike and Carol are still perky and sunny as ever, unironically sporting embarrassingly loud and overblown 70s clothing and hairstyles. All six kids are as unequivocally innocent and wholesome as in the series, and housekeeper Alice remains equally devoted to the family on no discernible pay. Though their roles may be exaggerated, the movie portrays them pretty accurately to their original forms. Their surroundings, however, have certainly taken a turn.
Cut to the 90s, chock full of flannel, grunge, garage bands, cynicism, and a splash of greed for good measure. The Bradys, campy as ever, seem utterly oblivious to the disparity of their surroundings. Admittedly, some fare better than others. Marcia, for instance, still gets to coast along on her looks, proving once and for all that beauty transcends time and allows people to overlook an untimely love for The Monkees' Davy Jones. Greg, on the other hand, is striking out with his frighteningly bad 70s singing aspirations, and Mike's continual architectural output of buildings that look suspiciously like the Brady's house is certainly suspect. Not to mention that Jan is bat-poopy crazy, seeking advice from her school counselor (RuPaul) and battling devious inner voices.
The general plot of the movie involves the state of the Brady's swingin' 70s digs, as villainous neighbor Mr. Dittmeyer seeks to develop the neighborhood into a shopping mall. Mr. Dittmeyer, by the way, is played by the ever-fabulous Michael McKean. If you have not done so already (heathens!), I implore you to go out there and rent Spinal Tap. I'll wait. No really, I'll be here when you get back.
Assuming you're now keen on McKean, I can only guess that you too see the brilliance of his casting in the role of greedy, plotting villain. Lucky for Dittmeyer, the family is teetering on the edge of foreclosure upon learning that they owe an astronomical $20,000 in unpaid taxes. In typical gung-ho Brady fashion, each child is determined to do his or her part to bring in the cash.
Observe as Jan and Marcia compete for modeling contracts to earn money to keep their family afloat. It doesn't end quite as lucratively as they would have hoped:
Of course, this isn't even the tip of the iceberg of their over-the-top sibling rivalry. In a fantasy gone awry Jan envisions herself cutting Marcia's hair during her sleep, though of course the ever-perfect Marcia comes out of it more beautiful than ever:
In true Brady rah-rah spirit, the family was determined to keep a positive attitude. In Brady-speak, however, this means going to the local Sears and throwing together an impromptu little musical number:
While you try to get "Sunshine Day" out of your head, I'll go on. Oh, and while all of this is happening, Marcia's juggling sleazy lecherous guys and unknowingly dodging the girl-on-girl advances from her friend, Noreen. Cute, right? There's your point of 70s-to-90s interaction right there. Anyway, Marcia steals Jan's idea to enter a Search-for-the-Stars competition and bring their family's 70s-tastic musical act onstage for a chance at $20,000. Convenient, I know. Jan is pretty pissed and proceeds to run off and is picked up by a truck driver played by the show's original Alice. What happens next requires a suspension of disbelief of Brady-esque proportion:
See, once Greg is willing to put aside his flashy rainbows-and-unicorns Johnny Bravo alter-ego, he can certainly churn out a Star Search-worthy song. Also, you've just gotta love Mike's long-winded moral lectures. Once the kids are finally free from Mike and Carol's verbal tyranny, they get the chance to go head-to-head with angsty garage bands with sweet names like "Phlegm". Peter's voice drops, and the show goes off without a hitch--spangly technicolored costumes and all. In a stroke of plot-necessitating luck, the Monkees are judging the contest and unanimously vote a straight Brady ticket.
(In case you were dying of Brady nostalgia curiosity, here's the original "Keep On" Talent Show clip to which the above performance alludes:)
Brady Bunch "Keep On"
As far as happy endings go, this just-in-the-nick of time conclusion takes the cake. Between Saved by the Bell's Mr. Dewey playing the auctioneer, a campy neighborly let's-all-be-friends-and-not-sell-out-to-the-evil-Mr-Dittmeyer scene, and a cameo from "Grandma" Florence Henderson (the original Mrs. Brady), it all wraps up pretty well.
Was it a cinematic masterpiece? No. Is it an enduring piece of movie history that will be archived for posterity? Probably not. It is, however, a fun and lighthearted look at both the original Brady Bunch sitcom and the time of the movie's release in the 1990s. The parody didn't just poke fun at the campy 70s TV family, it took equal jabs at the angst-ridden cynicism of the 90s. In the end, both are pretty equally worthy of satire.