Making a film based on a television series, particularly one as beloved as The Brady Bunch, is unenviable. The successes, like Mission: Impossible, are easily outnumbered by the failures, like Car 54, Where Are You? or The Beverly Hillbillies. Not that studios have given up trying – Rob Zombie’s reboot of The Munsters is readying for release, for example. Yet it’s a careful balancing act, a reverence to the original TV series, combined with a hook that lets the movie stand on its own. And The Brady Bunch Movie – now streaming on Amazon Prime – nailed it.
‘The Brady Bunch Movie’ Works Because It’s a Clever Twist on the Original Show
The Brady Bunch Movie, directed by Betty Thomas, has a great premise: The Bradys live as they do on TV, with the 1970s decor, costuming and mindset, but outside their yard, it’s the 1990s – grunge music and all – which they remain untouched by, despite living within it. Instead of a straight-forward copy of the original, it’s a loving reimagination with a clever twist.
The first element that works in its favor is the cast. Not only do the characters look like they do on TV, but the cast also is in on the joke, so to speak, playing their roles straight while mildly exaggerating their eccentricities, without resorting to flat-out mockery. Shelley Long as Carol Brady delivers the sing-song optimism and supportive housewife of the original, Gary Cole as Mike Brady delivers inflated pearls of fatherly advice, like, “A gift is only a good thing when the giver has given thought to that gift. But when the gift the giver gives gives grief, then that gift should give the givee regrets.” Christine Taylor plays up the innocent and beautiful Marcia, while Jennifer Elise Cox is absolutely fantastic as a slightly deranged and jealous Jan.
‘The Brady Bunch Movie’ References Everything Fans Loved Most
Scenes that take place in the Brady home are filled with references to the series that die-hard fans know and love. The accompanying music cues. Peter’s (Paul Sutera) catchphrase “Pork Chops and Applesauce” written on the kitchen’s blackboard menu. Marcia getting hit in the nose by a football. The absence of a toilet in the bathroom. The iconic horse statue in the living room (which would be a plot device in the follow-up A Very Brady Sequel).
It’s the scenes in the real world, where the contrast between the Bradys and the 1990s generates the most memorable moments. The family trip to Sears that begets a joyous, choreographed rendition of “It’s A Sunshine Day”, oblivious to the people gawking at them. The failed carjacking attempt, where young thug Eddie (Darion Brasco) is left stunned by Greg’s (Christopher Daniel Barnes) friendly assertion that his name isn’t Jack, and Marcia’s genuine “It was so nice to meet you.” School guidance counselor Mrs. Cummings (RuPaul), so used to contemporary student issues like teen pregnancy, bulimia and suicidal tendencies, that she’s taken aback by the simplicity of Jan’s dilemma with her glasses and middle child syndrome. Mike’s architectural projects that all look like his throwback home, to the dismay of his boss.
While the elements of reverence and the amusing dichotomy of the two radically different worlds is what works in the film’s favor, the true genius of the film can only be seen looking back on from today: it isn’t the 1970s morality and values of the Bradys, but the 1990s pieces that seem hopelessly outdated. Whether that is intentional or not may be arguable, but there is no doubt that it is another facet of the film that bears interest. Grunge music isn’t mainstream anymore. Stick-thin models are giving way to models that are more representative of the consumer. You don’t need to go to the gym and bulk up in order to hold your car phone.
The Brady Family Values Never Go Out of Style
The Bradys, on the other hand, tout family values that have never gone out of style and, surprisingly, an inclusivity ahead of its time. When the Brady kids go to try and win $20,000 at a talent contest, it’s their wholesome, variety show worthy rendition of “Keep On Movin” that wins them the prize. Yes, Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork of The Monkees were the judges, but in reality, how often does the bad apple, the troublemaker, win these types of contests? The closest might be Adam Lambert, runner-up on the eighth season of American Idol. Otherwise, Idol, America’s Got Talent, The Voice, and so on tend to reward safe, controversy-free acts. When the neighbors swarm the Bradys’ home, upset that the family didn’t sell their home in order to clear the neighborhood for development, Mike rattles off a timeless speech that turns the tide. It starts off with, “Our house is more important than money. This neighborhood is more important than money.” He then lists what it is that makes the neighborhood special: borrowing each other’s power tools, looking out for one another’s kids, Super Bowl parties, the daffodils Mrs. Simmons plants every year, and how Mrs. Topping walks through her living room naked. Mike gets the neighbors to see a bigger picture, the perks of having a close-knit community that has to be started from scratch if they leave the neighborhood behind. Quite simply, he gets them to see what was, is, and always will be more important than money. We, living through this Covid area, know only too well how right Mike is.
Which brings up the inclusivity. Among the neighbors that confront Mike Brady is a gay couple. There are no side eyes, no exclusion, no singling out. They stand equally amongst the mob, and Mike, who of all people would theoretically be against such a union, makes nothing of it. They are welcome neighbors, period. Marcia’s best friend, Noreen (Alanna Ubach), is a lesbian, but Marcia is unfazed by this fact. Regardless of whether it is due to her naïveté or a conscious decision, it is a friendship that doesn’t cater to the homophobia of the time, and actually allows Noreen, who knows her attraction to Marcia is not reciprocated, to find romance at the school dance.
The Brady Bunch Movie is one of the few TV-to-movie adaptations that took a risk with the property, and was rewarded for rising up to the challenge. It’s a groovy flick that’s hip in far out ways.