Against all odds, The Brady Bunch Movie manages the right combination of earnestness and meta spoofing. Here, the Bradys have endured into the grungier, more cynical ’90s, but they’ve been untouched by them; likewise, they’re in the real world but untouched by it. There is, thankfully, never even a hint of an explanation for this. Their status quo is eternal and uninterruptible, because that’s what these kinds of sitcoms offer. Fittingly, the people around them will mock, say, their peppy cheerfulness, AstroTurf backyard, or their lack of a toilet, but there’s no Pleasantville-esque attempt to shake them by the shoulders and break through their artificiality, no one tries to ask them questions they can’t answer. As baffled as everyone is by them, they also seem to mostly get that the Bradys are NPCs going about their own business, and while you can interact with them, you can’t expect them to understand you or break their own programming. The movie has a consistent, if paradoxical, understanding of its level of reality. It lightly presages everything from WandaVision to Life on Mars, and it works.
Pitch-perfect casting helps, especially when it comes to Gary Cole (Mike), Shelley Long (Carol), Michael McKean (sleazy, money-grubbing antagonist Dittmeyer), and Christine Taylor (Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!). Gary Cole is particularly great at delivering Mike Brady’s winding moral lessons without even the slightest hint of irony, making every one a delight: “If you judge your friends for passing judgment on you, you’re not only judging yourself you’re judging your friends for judging you. And that would be using bad judgment.”
Plus, the movie actually does function as a pretty good Brady Bunch episode, bright and colorful (the costumes are great) and straightforwardly nice in how it sends the family out after a runaway Jan and gives Marcia a cute dance with the boy who really likes her. Like Airplane, it has an actual story that has some satisfying–though deliberately corny–beats of its own.
Finally, the movie sells the second-level ramifications of its ’70s/’90s mash-up: Marcia and Greg might have both been on top of the social pyramid on the show, but they fare very differently here. Gorgeous, sunny, vintage-outfitted Marcia is still attractive to the ’90s boys and girls (even though she’s “harder to get into than a Pearl Jam concert”), because her prettiness trumps everything else; Greg’s expected to offer more, so no amount of good looks can make his outdated musical taste and hackneyed flirtation appealing to high school girls. Tough luck, Greg.
In short, The Brady Bunch Movie is as fun and clever as this concept was ever going to be, and it even comes with a likewise-entertaining (if less rigorous) sequel.
The Brady Bunch Movie is streaming on HBO.