07 August 2019

I Actually Watched A Very Brady Sequel

That's right.

You're looking for that Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood (2019) review. It's coming. One day. But today we have a much better film to review. One cherished as a perfect example of auteur theory and independent filmmaking gaining mainstream appeal in the mid-90s. This is just the tops. It's A Very Brady Sequel (1996).

Yes, not the original, The Brady Bunch Movie (1995), but its far superior sequel. Let me rewind a little bit.

For some reason The Brady Bunch entered pop culture hard after its five seasons on ABC from 1969 - 74. It's not a very good show at all. Some might say that it's the ultimate saccharine cringey family friendly sitcom. Despite being an indelible part of its time, it's also been continuously revived and regurgitated. Sticking to this idea is of course why the 90s movies work at all, but more on that later.

For those born at any time in the past twenty years, the core premise of The Brady Bunch was that a woman, with three blonde daughters married a man with three curly-haired boys. They all lived together with their weird housemaid, Alice. It was maybe progressive for its time for showing what was presumably two divorced or widowed adults shacking up together, but to be honest, you'd never know it. It all seemed like they were just a big family. Needless to say, all of these insane core conceits is precisely what the 90s films targeted.

The show was full of typical sitcom staples. Broken noses, dogs ruining homework. That kind of crap. There were a few specials in the 80s and all the actors became stock novelty jokes, but that was about it until the 90s.

Oh, the 90s.

When we all complain about a dearth of superhero films, I am so glad we are past the point where we're getting retreads of 70s TV Shows. Well, mostly. Actually...well, hot damn. We really aren't past this point, huh? I suppose it started with The Addams Family (1991), which was a surprise hit. And that movie is actually fantastic campy fun. We then got The Flintstones (1994). And by the way, all these movies got far zanier sequels for some reason. Let's roll through the rest:

Dragnet (1987)
The Addams Family (1991)
The Fugitive (1993)
Addams Family Values (1993)
The Flintstones (1994)
The Brady Bunch Movie (1995)
Casper (1995)
A Very Brady Sequel (1996)
Mission: Impossible (1996)
George of the Jungle (1997)
Lost in Space (1998)
Wild Wild West (1999)
Dudley Do-Right (1999)
The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas (2000)
The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (2000)
Charlie's Angels (2000)
Josie and the Pussycats (2001)
Scooby Doo (2002)
I Spy (2002)
Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003)
Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004)
Starsky & Hutch (2004)
Bewitched (2005)
The Dukes of Hazzard (2005)
Underdog (2007)
Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007)
Speed Racer (2008)
Get Smart (2008)
Land of the Lost (2009)
Yogi Bear (2010)
21 Jump Street (2012)
Dark Shadows (2012)
22 Jump Street (2014)
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
Baywatch (2017)
CHiPs (2017)

Notably there was also a made-for-TV Munsters movie in 1995 which also starred Christine Taylor as Marilyn. Christine Taylor was busy in 1995 playing old actresses.

Do you remember that there was a Dudley Do-Right film? Look at this list. Now, we can immediately see a few obvious trends. First, the 2000s were actually much worse than the 90s. It's amazing how slowly trends move in Hollywood. It's also clear that this trend peaked from about 1995-2005, with other films trickling in here and there. By 2009 it had just about petered out.

EXCEPT that for some reason 21 Jump Street happened and it was legitimately the greatest and funniest film ever, so we rushed to burn off the few remaining properties we had left. It was so clear that Baywatch and CHiPs were shallow attempts at capturing the same meta-magic, but it didn't really work. I'll argue that this meta-magic actually was working nearly twenty years early with A Very Brady Sequel, but more on that later. For this moment I'm still obsessed with this list.

There are some good movies here. Like 21 Jump Street showed, it truly doesn't actually matter what a movie's source material is. Tom Cruise made Mission: Impossible into a 20-year viable action franchise, mostly by being terrible to the source material, killing all the original characters, and turning the main father figure into an evil Jon Voight. The Fugitive is on here, an Oscar-winning movie. And I unironically will love Josie and the Pussycats until the day I'm buried six feet under the cold deep ground. Fight me. That's the greatest movie of all time. But yeah, a lot of this is trash.

Okay, let's get into this. You may notice one distinctive thing about this list. There is only one film with the word "Movie" in the title. It's the first of many sly and many definitely not so sly indications that the creators of The Brady Bunch Movie knew they were taking a ridiculous property and turning into a shallow cash grab. See, I mentioned earlier that this family is stuck in the suburban saccharine sitcom values of the early 70s. When adapting these movies you have either two choices: Set the modern movie in the same day as the original was set (Starsky & Hutch, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Dark Shadows) or update to the modern day (Dragnet, Charlie's Angels, Bewitched).

Fuck that, said Jan Brady. We're gonna do both.

What if the entire setting of the movie was updated to modern day, but the actual family wasn't? For some brilliant, amazing reason, the Brady Family along with that weirdo Alice is stuck in 1970 while the rest of the world is in the mid-90s. This is never explained. I like to think that it's just a continuation of the show. The characters would never age or get old or change their premise, even if the world did. They reference other off-screen adventures constantly. The family remains almost aggressively ignorant. It's clear that this not only applies to fashion and values, but language, technology, and knowledge of current events. It's downright amazing. The first film plays with plopping this cheery family into the middle of 90s cynicism.

Isn't it weird that the 90s are remembered for its grunge and cynicism? What the hell was wrong with us? We're the most ungrateful culture ever. It was like the greatest American economic decade of all time. Anyway-

This all works pretty well. There is almost a way of dropping 90s jokes into 60s sitcom style, like Marcia (Christine Taylor, obvi) being subtly passive aggressive against Butt-Monkey Jan. But now let's get into the totally rad Very Brady Sequel. The basic premise is the inverse of the first film. Instead of showing the Bradys in the world, they introduce Roy Martin, supposedly matriarch Carol's first husband, previously thought lost at sea!

Roy Martin is played by Tim Matheson, and he's brilliant as the exasperated outsider, conniving con-man, and honestly, a character we actually root for. Everyone else is so damn weird, we actually end up entering the Brady world through the Roy Martin lens, which is fun because he's also the primary antagonist. It works because his con is so transparent, the Bradys are so stupid, and the film makes no qualms about hiding either mystery to the viewer. You cheer for him but know he's a scumbag, but the Bradys cannot seem to figure out his ruse.

This obviously raises big concerns for the Brady Marriage. Carol is suddenly torn between the loves of her life, even though "Roy" looks nothing like her husband (he claims and elephant stomped on his face, that's why it's different). Everyone has their little thing to do. The youngest boy, Bobby, is playing detective. The youngest girl, Cindy, has lost her dollie. The middle boy, Peter, is trying to become a man and gets truly terrible advice from surrogate father, Roy. Then we get some heavy Flandersization.

Jan was maybe an annoying middle child, but she's portrayed her as a straight psychopath. She's obsessed with gaining both her older sister's attention as well as attention INSTEAD of her. This is mostly through her fake boyfriend, George Glass (originally George Tropicana, when the glass she was looking at for inspiration was full...). Every single scheme she comes up with is so ludicrously false. She literally even brings a dummy on a date. Its head falls off, comic hilarity ensues, everyone thinks it's a performance art piece, and Marcia does not notice at all. Jan is so insane that she's the only one who really buys into "Roy" being her real father. She calls him "Daddy" constantly and jumps into his lap on multiple occasions. She also tries to drive and loses a contact but none of her confidence. Still, she was maybe crazier in the first one.

Everyone blatantly hates Jan, especially Marcia. It's almost like she derives some sick pleasure out of torturing her, but it's largely just stating a disbelief in what she's doing. When "Roy" eventually moves to kidnap Carol, the entire family pushes Jan and says "Take Jan instead!" The funniest joke in the entire movie is immediately after this (it also neatly sums up the arcs of each character) and writing it out is terrible, so just watch:



We're gonna skip Greg and Marcia for a second just because...we have to. But we'll get back to that. That's like, the entire reason why this movie rules. Let's go into the adults.

Shelley Long is perfect as Carol and has some exceptional comedic timing here. She has little glances, little moments of frenetic energy, and slight bit alluding to lesbianism with Alice that's delivered perfect. She also nearly gets herself out of her own kidnapping, and while she's still ultimately held a gunpoint by "Roy," she is the one who thwarts his $20 million horse statue sale. Yeah, that's the main driving plot point. It doesn't matter.

Gary Cole as Mike Brady is also full of so many metaphors that go no where that the movie itself actively makes fun of him. There is also spectacular timing to some of the lines. He says, "Sharing is what this family is all about" right at the moment when Roy shows up looking for his long-lost wife, Carol. At one point he also says, "That man threatened my kids, kidnapped my wife, AND took advantage of my hospitality. Now he's going to pay." Gary Cole completely sells this line as if Mike truly believes it, and it's so damn funny. He's also possibly impotent when faced with the threat of another man. There's a bit where both he and Carol awake in bed suddenly and agree that they had the same dream, as if it happens often.

There are so many moments that border on the surreal, especially as the movie goes along. Alice sleeps in the refrigerator. Cindy's doll has an inner monologue. There are multiple song and dance numbers with public choreography, the latter one on a plane to Hawaii. At one point David Spade cameos as a weird gay European Hairdresser and tries to cut Carol's hair with a chainsaw. That is a sentence I never thought I would write. There are also cameos by RuPaul, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Rosie O'Donnell. It's madness. 90s!

Alice is the most sitcom-y character out there and the film should get credit for nailing the timing of her horrible jokes with no laughtrack to back them up. It adds another layer to the surreality. Very literally - Alice bakes mushrooms into his spaghetti and he trips, going on an animated 60s flashback. This movie is bonkers.

OK. Greg and Marcia. Are you ready?

In my vast expanse of knowledge this is one of the only times I can think of where the creators actually followed through on shipping two characters who definitely should never hook up. In this case, step-siblings. It's literally a porno. But the incest is also what makes this movie amazing. This is literally a four-quadrant major motion picture with one corner of plot just hanging on straight incest.

Now, they're step-siblings, so...cool? It also seems like for most of this movie, and for most of their history, they didn't really understand how re-marriage works? Kudos to Carol and Mike for truly blending a happy family, but it's not until Roy shows up that Greg and Marcia realize they're not actually brother and sister.

If we look at this, Cindy is not that old, they can't have been together too long. Maybe five, six years? Since Greg was like...twelve? Now - now, that's still weird, it's still definitely weird, but how do you not understand what step-sister means? Anyway, they lay down the incest hard. HARD. Literally, at one point Greg straight up gets a boner because Marcia gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation at the beach. They also full-on make out at the end of the film, although I think it's heavily implied they got frisky when they first got in the attic together and realized that they are both hot.

By the way, despite being a total weirdo, Marcia is also clearly very popular. She literally has a box of trophies. She's the coolest girl in school. Greg is also played by Christopher Daniel Barnes, who was the voice of Peter Parker in the 90s Spider-Man show, which I could not get out of my head. He's actually a great comedic actor here. He's gotten decent voicework through Spider-Man over the past twenty years, but I would have loved to see him take more live action roles in the late 90s / early 2000s. Christine Taylor has obviously gone on to do great things and may be the most successful member of this cast.

This movie succeeds because while it's obviously reverential in many ways, it realizes how dumb its source material is, and doesn't care much at all about fucking with it. Again - literally. This is the only way a film like this could have worked. There was no way they could have done either an updated modern version, or one stuck in the time period. They also play loose enough with the rules of the show and explore the questions we've always wondered like, "What happened to Carol's husband?" "What is the deal with that horse?" and "Why don't Greg and Marcia hook up?" It's seriously so constant and played for so many laughs, guys, this is awesome.

There are plenty of other cameos and references to what universe this takes place in. "Roy" apparently was responsible for the S.S. Minnow being lost at sea in Gilligan's Isle (and Carol's actual original husband was the Professor). Mike's original wife shows up at the end, as the original I Dream of Jeannie, Barbara Eden. Does that mean that all his kids are half-Jeanne? The movie just fucking ends.

Richard Belzer also appears as "Detective" but he's totally Munch, which means this is all in the Munchverse. It's actually an amazing moment when Mike enters the LAPD office and the movie totally switches to a grimy 90s cop show, while he extols the fair and just reputation of the LAPD just years after Rodney King. Yay!

The film ends with either the dog, Tiger, or Cousin Oliver, or both being hit by a car. I'm not sure if this was some long due therapeutic measure, or a reference for how random it was that the Brady dog would show up (he's not in the rest of the film), but damn this has some grim moments in a film otherwise awash in 70s faux pop hippie aesthetic. That's certainly the entire point of this movie.

So that was a lot. More than you ever really wanted to hear, I'm sure. But I completely unironically love this movie and every second is an amazing display of wit, reference, lampshading, and irony. It's fantastic. No one cares about A Very Brady Sequel. At all. It's streaming now on Hulu. Give it a chance!

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