After the announcement of Florence Henderson’s death on Thanksgiving, it seemed appropriate to honor her memory by spending some time with the character for whom she’ll always be remembered: Carol Brady. I chose not to watch episodes of the sitcom but something else she was in, and The Brady Bunch Movie fit the bill. Although she doesn’t play her iconic character here, Henderson still makes a cameo as Carol’s mother.
The Brady Bunch Movie has about as much depth as the show—less, actually. It doesn’t matter, though, because it’s a divinely groovy tribute to the series, tongue firmly in cheek. Set in the mid ’90s when it came out, the world has changed—but the Bradys, fixed in the ’70s, haven’t. The plot revolves around previously unseen shady next door neighbor Larry Dittmeyer (Michael McKean) and his underhanded plot to get the Bradys out of their home, which they don’t want to sell. Much of the humor comes from the anachronistic nature of the family, especially interesting to watch now that we’re as far in time from the movie as the movie is from the series. Again, the world has changed.
The Brady Bunch Movie captures everything lovably goofy about the series, and does so better than any other movie based on a television show. Deborah Aquila’s casting is genius; every single actor here nails his or her character’s idiosyncrasies. Shelley Long’s Carol is uncanny. Christine Taylor is a dead ringer for Maureen McCormick—it’s actually creepy. Jennifer Elise Cox is amazing as Jan, playing up Eve Plumb’s weird mannerisms and way of speaking as psychotic. Henriette Mantel acts exactly like Ann B. Davis as Alice, right down to her comic beat and the face she makes when she says her punchline. Indeed, casting other sitcom stars like McKean (Laverne & Shirley) and Jean Smart (Designing Women) as the Dittmeyers is a subtle yet wickedly snarky touch. RuPaul makes a bizarre appearance as a guidance counselor. Practically obligatory cameos by Barry Williams, Christopher Knight, and Davis are wacky and good-natured without coming off as desperate.
Director Betty Thomas keeps the pace quick and the lines flying, one right after another. The script is packed with references to quintessential episodes: Jan’s wig and glasses, Marcia’s nose, Greg’s “Johnny Bravo” song (“clowns never laughed before, beanstalks never grew”), Peter’s changing voice, Cindy’s tattling, even Davy Jones singing “Girl” with the Monkees. Fucking brilliant! The script crams an impressive number of lines from the series into an hour and a half.
The Brady Bunch Movie is a fun tribute to a show everyone knows—everyone born between the late 1950s and maybe early to mid 1980s, anyway. I laughed my ass off when I saw it during its original run, and I laughed my ass off again this time. Perhaps one day I’ll bring myself to see A Very Brady Sequel. Rest in peace, Ms. Henderson—I’ll always remember you fondly.