Brady Bunch Redux

OpArt

The Brady Bunch Movie

directed by Betty Thomas

starring Shelly Long, Gary Cole and Michael MicKean

The Brady Bunch" didn't start out as a self-parody. "The Brady Bunch Movie" does. "The Brady Bunch Movie" takes the artless cheese of the original TV series and reprocesses it; it's so bad it's good. Director Betty Thomas and her cast have created a deliberate, unerring spoof that exposes the inanity of present day nostalgia for the Polyester Decade.

"The Brady Bunch Movie" abounds in cheap jokes capitalizing on the camp value of a plastic 70s sitcom family living in 90s culture. There isn't anything quite like Marcia Brady. (Christine Taylor, Maureen McCormick's virtual double) in a pink (you guessed it) polyester dress and matching handbag promenading through her high school. Grunge boys gawk at her and a Ricki Lake look-alike lesbian (Alanna Ubach) fawns over her. One boy says, "Marcia Brady's harder to get into than a Pearl Jam concert." The over-the-top acting of the Brady family members (and Alice, too) saves the film, pushing it to unique comic heights.

Just like a "Brady Bunch" episode, the film's plot neatly proceeds from dumb to dumber. Next door neighbor Mr. Ditmeyer (played annoyingly by Michael McKean) tries to get the Bradys to sell their house so he can turn the neighborhood into a minimall. The Bradys refuse, of course, because, as Mr. Brady (Gary Cole) says, "I love the house, my wife loves the house, the kids love the house, Alice loves the house..." They love the house.

However, due to a mix-up in the mail, the Bradys haven't been getting their tax bills. If they don't pay $20,000 in back taxes in four days, the house will be auctioned off. In typical Brady fashion, Carol (Shelly Long, who must really need work) and Mike try to keep this from the kids. Cindy (Olivia Hack, with a perfect lisp) finds out and tattles, which isn't much of a surprise. The six kids then spend the rest of the film brain-storming money-making schemes.

Much better than the movie's plot are its various subplots. Jennifer Elise Cox riotously portrays Jan as a teen-ager with middle-child disorder. She steals every scene she's in. "Everything's always Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!" she yells several times. Cox's bizarrely contorted face perfectly communicates the warring voices in Jan's head. At one point, she seeks help from a school counselor (played by Rupaul), who advises her to change her image. The result is Afro-sized. Every head-bouncing exit she makes draws hysterics.

Marcia's big dilemma is that she has two dates to the big high school dance--a typical Marcia problem if there ever was one. She rebuffs a 90s teen-aged boy who expects too much play--doesn't he realize she's a Brady? Her conceit about her "good looks and sparkling personality" plays perfectly in a film whose main characters remain blissfully unaware of how ridiculous they are. And wait until you see her dance.

The other kids have troubles, too. Greg (Christopher Daniel Barnes) pathetically attempts to become a 70s rock star in a 90s world. Bobby (Paul Sutera) is uncomfortable with his job as a safety monitor (he wears an armband that reads "SM"). These minor traumas remain undeveloped in comparison to Marcia and Jan's tribulations, but they are still goofily enjoyable.

Together, the Brady family creates moments of incredible comedy. Mr. Brady delivers stupid speeches and Alice (Henriette Mantel) worries over her relationship with Sam the Butcher (David Graf). The drunken, horny Mrs. Ditmeyer (Jean Smart), always trying to get the Brady men to "mow" her "lawn," is the only non-Brady character who deserves equal accolades.

Okay, so it isn't "Forrest Gump." (Thank God.) Heck, it isn't even "Wayne's World." It's just the 70s coming back to haunt us.