Kids these days

Foxfire's five teens, plus six Bradys, are nothing but rebels without a clue

The Brady Bunch Movie was a sleeper success last year, but the film itself wasn't quite as good as the screenplay's primary idea: setting the film in the '90s, yet keeping the Bradys forever in the '70s. (The Bradys aren't too out of it; they have their own home page.) The Teflon-cheerful Mike, Carol, and family seem to be the only ones immune to lactose intolerance, the war on drugs, and teen pregnancy--they are, in short, decidedly free of both Generation Xers and baby boomers. The movie had a lot of amusing lines, but the audience participation angle is what made it really work. The experience of laughing in a communal setting and of sharing group memories from childhood gave it the kick to turn into a sociological phenomenon.

Having exhausted the Bradys' good will in the last movie, A Very Brady Sequel needed to reinvent them, or radically improve on its jokes. It does neither, confirming that without diligence and creativity, lightning does only strike once.

The problem of making a feature film about a TV show look visually interesting is only one symptom of a much bigger crisis facing A Very Brady Sequel--how torn it is between meticulously recreating the treacly Brady mystique in an effort to be true camp and using delicious innuendo to create a completely subversive version of the ideal family. Rather than resolving this issue, director Arlene Sanford and a staff of screenwriters simply split the baby. The film's two personalities battle it out for dominance before our very eyes, and the result is a bloody, unsatisfying TKO.

The victor, of sorts, is the movie's rebellious wickedness. Its most daring thematic gamble is the suggestion of incest between Marcia and Greg. For the first few minutes they play up that taboo, and the sensation of discomfort permeates the movie theater. But after a while you realize that their decision was inevitable. After all, the Bradys are the royalty of American '70s--the kings of kitsch. And like the British royal family, incest is the almost necessary consequence of the steadfast refusal to change with the times. Because no commoners are quite up to carrying on the tradition of self-imposed isolation with the innate sense of right and wrong only a real Brady has, intermarriage seems almost natural. Marcia and Greg know they're being naughty, but in their perverse, twisted universe, devotion to family values takes on a new, creepy significance.

No one in A Very Brady Sequel, an aggressively bland version of an already vanilla-flavored TV show, is especially evil, not even the putative villain. That can't be said of Foxfire, a stupefyingly absurd meditation on teen angst, and easily the worst film of the year.

Based on a Joyce Carol Oates book, Foxfire traipses out the ultimate cliche character in melodrama--the mysterious stranger (here, a 17-year-old bad girl) who enters town like a stale breeze and rattles the cages of the complacent town folk, transforming the youth of the community, and helping them grow as women. (Ugh.) And what if you don't buy her juvenile, self-empowering feminism? What are you, some kind of sexist pig?

Although all the female characters have names, they don't really need them. You just as well might refer to them as Troubled Butch Girl (Jenny Shimizu), Mousy Virgin (Jenny Lewis), Sensitive Artist (Hedy Burress), Dizzy Slut (Sarah Rosenberg), and, of course, Dangerous Rebel (Anjelina Jolie). That's largely the fault of the producers' decision to turn the Oates book into a movie in the first place. Here and in the only other film based on an Oates novel, Smooth Talk, it seems apparent that the author simply doesn't adapt well to the screen. Oates specializes in visualizing abstract feelings, and translating them into plausible events to give them real-life significance. That tactic may read well on the page, but her style is too deliberate and metaphorical to make interesting characters who have to relate to one another through dialogue.

Foxfire contains, line-for-line, the most laughable dialogue in any movie this year. "Where do you live?" reticent Maddie asks "Legs," the rebel. "Mostly in my head," Legs replies. "Why were you thrown out of school?" Maddie asks. "For thinking for myself," she snaps back. And that's just a brief sample of the asinine exchanges that stretch on for an interminable two hours.

If the women in Foxfire come off as mere shills for the filmmakers' naive rantings about teen anxiety, the men fare even worse. They almost all fall into one of three categories: rapists; rapist sympathizers; or future rapists. (All others are abusive or just useless.) In what the director, Annette Haywood-Carter, probably thought was a sweet turn of the tables, the men are objectified as sex objects and dumb brutes, but that doesn't make the women seem independent and strong--just ball-busting man haters. Anything goes--absolutely anything--if done in the name of sisterhood.

Teen obsessions tend to be pretty obvious affairs in real life, anyway, and bad movies like these merely play mercilessly to those cliches. What a bleak view of adolescence Foxfire envisions--one in which it's all right to dump your friends and give up your future for the flimsy promises of a cookie-cutter miscreant like Legs. It's enough to make the Bradys' lifestyle look attractive.

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