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THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Shelley Long, Gary Cole, Michael McKean, Henriette Mantel
Director:  Betty Thomas
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  None
Length:  88 Minutes
Release Date:  June 10, 2003

“Daddy, there’s a BRADY in our yard!!”

Film ***

What happens when America’s favorite family from the 70s ends up in the 90s?  For them, not much.  For the rest of the world…watch out!

The Brady Bunch Movie is a nearly perfect parody aimed mostly at those who knew the show well (who doesn’t?).  It’s a terrifically entertaining mix of in-jokes, innuendos, cultural clash, and maybe even a little poignancy.  There’s just something heartwarming about this family’s ability to stay true to themselves and innocently isolated from the rest of the world.

The cast is superb from top to bottom with performers who make the parody work by taking their characters seriously.  Shelley Long is pitch perfect as mother Carol Brady, while Gary Cole’s voice and mannerisms as father Mike Brady made me laugh every time he opened his mouth.  Both performances recall Florence Henderson and the late Robert Reed with style and heart.  Henriette Mantel is also a revelation, bringing back Ann B. Davis’ Alice the maid to vivid, humorous life.

But the Bradys were all about the kids, and this troupe is up to the task.  In an era where cute kids are smeared all over the screen regardless of whether or not they can really act, it’s wonderful to see SIX perfectly cast young actors, who each recall their 70s counterparts with detail, from Greg’s smarmy songwriting and Marcia’s oh-so-popular schtick, from Peter’s cracking voice to Jan’s middle child syndrome, to Bobby’s pluckiness and Cindy’s lisp.  The young stars have a great chemistry with each other and with their veteran co-stars.

The plot?  Well, it’s the story of a lovely lady…ah, never mind.  The plot is probably the weakest aspect of the movie, and the least important.  But for the curious, it involves the unscrupulous neighbor Ditmeyer (McKean) and his bid to remove all the families in the neighborhood, including the you-know-whos, for a chance to make a killing in a real estate deal.  But our somehow-formed-family isn’t keen on giving up their home, even for a juicy payoff.  However, when it turns out the Bradys owe $20,000 in back taxes, all may be lost…or do the Brady kids manage to save the day in spite of their decade imparity?

But what the film lacks in story in more than makes up for with delicious satire and humor.  I laughed hard and often at everything from Greg’s come-ons (“Hey, groovy chick…you’re happening in a far out way…”) to the double entendres exchanged between Mike and Carol or between Alice and longtime boyfriend Sam the butcher.  I loved the exaggeration of Jan’s jealousy of Marcia into an outright psychosis.  I really loved when a bewildered Davy Jones finds his song “Girl” updated behind him by a modern high school rock band!

But most of all, I loved how the film celebrated the Bradys as a cultural misstep from start to finish.  In a world of grunge, crime, overt sexuality and cynicism, the Bunch remains bright and cheerful, warm and loving, and blissfully ignorant.  Fans who grew up with the original show will realize this is just taking the original premise to new heights…we all knew even then that the Bradys were an innocent exaggeration of family ideals.  I know…my family was nothing like the Brady Bunch in the 70s, although we probably did dress almost as badly.

This family doesn’t fit it, but it’s the rest of the world that’s uncomfortable with it, not them.  One neighbor remarks incredulously about six kids and only one bathroom…without a toilet!  In another scene, Greg and Marcia naively escape a carjacking without ever realizing the danger they were in…though who would want to steal a 70s station wagon is beyond me.  Even Mike Brady as an architect is reduced to a “dry well”…every design he concocts looks awfully familiar.

The real genius of The Brady Bunch Movie is that it appeals to both the cynic and the idealist in us, even though the movie never steps into cynical territory itself.  We’re invited to laugh with the Bradys and celebrate their cultural peculiarity, while at the same time marvel at how they managed to shield themselves from a world going mad around them.

This is simply a charming, very funny film with all the right ingredients:  spirited cast, terrific premise, loving attention to detail, and humor coming from things both innocent and naughty.  A better storyline might have put it over the top, but as much fun as I always have watching this movie, that’s really nothing to cancel the family trip to Hawaii over.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Look for original series stars Barry Williams, Florence Henderson, Ann B. Davis and Christopher Knight in small roles!

Video ***

Paramount did nice work with this anamorphic transfer…in particular, the sunny colors of the 70s are bright and radiant, and a nice contrast to the grayer tint of the “real” world.  Images are generally clean and clear throughout, with only a minor touch of noticeable grain here and there against brighter backgrounds. 

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix offers solid if not overly abundant work for the rear channels, accentuating the bluster of bigger scenes like cars on the highway or the big school dance.  The subwoofer is used sparingly.  Dialogue is cleanly delivered, the music sounds great, and dynamic range is fairly good for a situational styled comedy.

Features (zero stars)

Nothing.

Summary:

There’s no doubt that audiences will always return to the Brady Bunch house, either for laughs or for memories.  In any case, it was a family ripe for a witty parody, and it got just that in the gleefully entertaining big screen offering The Brady Bunch Movie.  This is one I’m personally glad to have on disc.