The movie may be titled “Come On Get Happy,” but in the breathtakingly fatuous and cynical “The Partridge Family Story,” no one ever does. They instead grow from spoiled to miserable to desperately self-absorbed — particularly Danny Bonaduce, whose fingerprints are all over this thing. To believe Bonaduce, the worst thing that can happen to a youngster is to land a role in a hit TV series. Scratch that: The worst thing is to have to play Danny Partridge on “The Partridge Family.” Case closed.
Bonaduce fancies himself the patron saint of abused child actors, fairly reveling in the status. And with “Come On Get Happy” (on which he served as a consultant), Bonaduce is fully in his element even though we never see him onscreen. Through actor Shawn Pyfrom, who bears a reasonable resemblance to the redheaded smart-aleck, Bonaduce is able to slay all sorts of demons in something of a “Mommy Dearest” (“Danny Dearest”?) fashion. And we sense that he is having one helluva campy good time.
There is thus little doubt that “Come On Get Happy” is very much “The Danny Bonaduce Story” masquerading as something more lofty. We see that he was regularly walloped both physically and emotionally by a father (effectively played here by William Russ) who was resentful of Danny’s success because he was a frustrated TV writer. And so Danny’s co-stars on the series (Shirley Jones, David Cassidy, Dave Madden) would take him home on weekends to keep him out of harm’s way.
Scribes Jon S. Denny, Jacqueline Feather and David Seidler appear to be enjoying themselves immensely while steering away from the usual superficial trappings of these reunion movies. Because, in fact, this is no reunion at all. It is instead a revisionist look behind the scenes at a good-time TV show from the early 1970s. It briefly resurrected the career of Jones, transformed Cassidy into a teen idol and served to introduce the surrealistically silent presence of one Susan Dey.
But “Come On Get Happy” is scarcely about any of that. Instead, it’s about the drama behind the scenes of “The Partridge Family” that turned it into Dysfunction Junction. We sense that Jones and Cassidy had little input into this particular version of the “Partridge” story. Jones is portrayed (by Eve Gordon) as a wooden maternal figure who is so clueless she once ordered Bonaduce to go to his room — on the set.
Cassidy is played (by Rodney Scott) as a whiny jerk who is constantly bitching about having to play with his real-life stepmom and a bunch of little kids. In one scene that finds Cassidy standing up to the demands of producers, he sniffs, “I have a life! And pubic hair!”
The executives at ABC and behind the scenes are shown to be users and abusers themselves, paying Cassidy a mere $600 weekly at the show’s height, altering Cassidy’s voice to keep him sounding younger and muttering things like, “This better work or I’ll be back producing ‘Captain Kangaroo.’ ”
As for Bonaduce, well, he gets to have fun being the class cutup, with the actual Bonaduce observing at the outset, “I couldn’t sing or play the guitar … but none of it mattered.”
“Come On Get Happy” is never more ridiculous than when it tries to juxtapose the series with the tumultuous events of the early ’70s like the antiwar protests and the Watergate scandal. While a president was about to be booted from office, one innocent TV show was still insisting, “I Think I Love You.” But it turns out that one of the biggest scandals of the time actually involved Danny Bonaduce. Who knew?