In "The Brady Bunch Movie," the sweetly dippy Brady step-family is fast-forwarded from the 1970s television series to 1990s Los Angeles, where they replay several old episodes against a more cynical backdrop of grunge rock, teen-age pregnancy, bulimia and lesbian crushes. (Rated PG-13)
Frankly, I wouldn't even have known the plot contained several old episodes if I hadn't been sitting next to my 13-year-old daughter, Amanda. A few years ago, when her third-grade teacher asked the class to write about someone they wanted to emulate, Amanda picked the popular, hair-flipping Marcia Brady.
("A lot of girls did," she said. "It came on before school.")
She's actually read "Growing Up Brady" ("Over 3 Months on the New York Times Bestseller List"). She scores in the 98th percentile on Brady Bunch trivia.
Why? Is it that half the kids today grew up in divorced or blended families? Or maybe their right brains were touched by that window of weirdness, the '70s, with long pointy collars, polyester bell-bottoms and uncontrolled pattern mixing? Or could it be that Marcia, Jan, Cindy, Greg, Peter, Bobby, Mike, Carol and Alice make such great kitsch?
"I don't know," she said. "I just liked it."
So do a lot of kids and young adults who got to the theater ahead of us, leaving us the last two seats in the front row, far left. (Over Presidents' Day weekend, the movie opened to almost $15 million.) From those seats, watching the action unfold was like watching Ping-Pong in the sky between one very fat and one very skinny opponent.
Still, Amanda could identify the cameos by the original cast members and recognized all the episodes--the one where '70s heartthrob Davy Jones comes to school, the talent search where the kids dress up in fringed jumpsuits and at least three of the Jan's-depressed-and-blames-Marcia episodes.
Grading the movie A-minus, Amanda laughed hardest at Jan's audible inner demons, provoking her to trash Marcia's trophy collection and delight in her pretty sister's temporarily swollen nose.
"It's not the same type of comedy that was in the TV show," Amanda explained. "That was '60s and '70s type humor. This is '90s humor."
When Marcia's date comes to pick her up, for instance, mother Carol asks her if she has a sweater, and as an afterthought also asks him if he has protection. Sure, he answers in the show's lifeless monotone, in assorted textures and colors. She smiles vacantly.
When Mike delivers his clearly incomprehensible fatherly maxims to the kids, such as why it's wrong to tattle ("You're only tattling on yourself"), the kids answer dutifully, "I never thought of it that way before."
Amanda said some of the slapstick fell flat for her, such as when a newspaper hits Alice from behind, or when the neighbor mistakes a live wire for Cindy's jump rope and gets the shock treatment.
But she appreciated all the actors' caricatures of their TV counterparts--especially Shelley Long and Gary Cole as the parents.
"They sounded exactly like them," she said.
Leaving the show, we overheard a boy telling his friends that while he liked it, it wasn't a movie to see twice.
Amanda disagreed, thinking of her seat in the crowded theater.
"I'd like to see it again," she said. "So we can see it."
Mostly, she continued, "this was a comedy movie for kids. But actually for adults. You liked it, too."
"True," I said, "but I didn't get as much out of it as you did."
"That's funny," she said. "You, like, grew up in that time period and didn't watch it. I'm in the next generation and watched all of it."
I never thought of it that way before.