A Very Brady Sequel
Like the undead, the Bradys always rise again. The Brady Bunch was on the air for five seasons (1969-74) and a total of 117 episodes, but found cult fame as the ubiquitous rerun of the 1970s (which spawned a cottage industry of television spin-offs and movies). Eventually, the perky television family receded into embarrassed memory, like platform shoes, bell-bottoms, and other remnants of an aesthetically-challenged decade. When the styles of the 1970s had a resurgence, the Bradys arrived with them.
Now comes A Very Brady Sequel, a more assured and cohesive film than last year’s The Brady Bunch Movie. Both films are authorized parodies, exaggerations that are essentially kind to the original source. The filmmakers are preaching to the choir, and little here would make sense to anyone unfamiliar with the television show. These new films present the Bradys exactly as they were: slotted into their respective roles, absorbed with petty concerns, and oblivious to the outside world.
Instead of setting the action in the past, the filmmakers hit upon a bizarre plot device that actually works. The Bradys are trapped in the 1970s (in all their garish splendor) while the world around them has evolved in ways they refuse to comprehend or even acknowledge. For A Very Brady Sequel, the writers have combined bits and pieces from numerous shows to create the ultimate episode. Parents Mike (Gary Cole) and Carol (Shelley Long) watch over their brood during summer vacation while the kids pursue their individual concerns ranging from a lost doll to a battle over who gets the attic bedroom. Meanwhile, Alice makes lots of meatloaf.
Into this blissful, irony-free Eden comes a viper (Tim Matheson) who claims to be Carol’s first husband, long-ago thought dead. His presence upsets the delicate balance. Carol Brady, she of the unflappable hair and unshakable faith, questions her loyalties. The hormonally-obsessed Marcia and Greg ponder what it means if they aren’t really brother and sister. Other siblings seek advice, which they take at face value, willfully misunderstanding the intentions. Eventually, this interloper leads the family to Hawaii, and a reassessment of what it means to be Brady.
All this is done in a playful, tongue-in-cheek style that lovingly recreates the world of polyester, macrame, and shag rugs. (The scenes in the Brady house have the same flat, too-bright color of the series.) Director Arlene Sanford, a veteran of sitcoms, keeps the pace brisk and the atmosphere unencumbered by reality. For the faint of heart, be forewarned: the Bradys occasionally break into song. And yes, it’s as bad as you remember.
The actors function as little more than impersonators, merely exaggerating each character’s well-established quirks. Amid this brood self-consciously reliving the sitcom, Jennifer Elise Cox’s Jan (trapped in self-loathing and venomous jealousy) and dead-ringer Christine Taylor’s self-absorbed Marcia are the stand-outs. While the Brady offspring are in perpetual arrested development, the adults function as dubious moral guides. Patriarch Mike Brady’s numerous lectures, intended to convey life lessons, are hilariously long-winded double-talk diatribes that reveal nothing at all. (Gary Cole is a deadpan delight.)
The Bradys are pabulum, but also a form of comfort food, always reassuringly the same. Tim Matheson, the invader who brings wanton values into this idyllic universe, also serves as audience surrogate, cringing at their relentless optimism, wanting to squelch the incessant effervescence. But he is undone by the awesome power of popular culture where kitsch reigns supreme. “Oh, no!” Matheson cries when he realizes Alice has just fed him some kind of mushroom, “I’m tripping with the Bradys!” Have a nice day.
Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on August 23, 1996 by Paramount Pictures
First published in the Metro Times.