Director: Kyle Marvin
Starring: Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno, Sally Field
I would be lying if I said I was on pins and needles with anticipation before my recent screening of 80 for Brady. As the audience began to file into the theater, I noticed a mood shift, and I started to feel more optimistic. A large part of a comedy like this is the attitude you bring to it, and the crowd I saw it with came absolutely ready to play. A mixture of professional football fans and viewers of a certain age packed into their seats to watch a rather straightforward but occasionally charming comedy about four friends, all around 80 years old, who decide to make a last-minute trip to the Super Bowl to cheer on their beloved hero Tom Brady of the (then) New England Patriots.
The film is inspired by a true life tale of four devout Tom Brady fans who dubbed themselves the “Over 80 for Brady.” One of their grandsons happened to have Hollywood connections and, well, the rest is history. 80 for Brady specifically takes place in 2017 when the Patriots (featuring star quarterback Brady) were off to battle the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. The four ladies are all played by Hollywood legends and each character naturally represents a very specific type. I overheard one woman sitting very close to me explain to her companion how each member of her own personal friend group aligns with the characters in the film. Forget the days of women identifying as members of the quartet from Sex and the City or Girls; now it’s the older ladies’ turn.
Lily Tomlin plays Lou, a cancer survivor who became a Brady fan years ago with her group of best friends while recovering from grueling chemotherapy. They stumbled upon a game on TV, found the guys cute, and now, several years in remission, they have kept the football fanaticism going complete with a number of wacky superstitions. The group includes the bashful Betty (Field), a former professor at M.I.T. and a wiz with statistics of the game and their beloved Tom. Trish (Fonda) is a bombastic serial dater, unlucky in love herself, who channels her sexual energy into softcore romance novels featuring Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Maura (Moreno) remains in mourning over the recent loss of her beloved husband but has developed an easy flirtation with a fellow resident at her retirement home (Glynn Turman).
When a local sports show offers a contest for the best Patriots fan story, Lou jumps at the opportunity since first prize is what all of the ladies have dreamed of: a trip to the Super Bowl in Houston. Soon, the foursome are on their way to the Super Bowl with a full agenda of activities that will range from an accidental entry into a hot wings contest courtesy of celebrity chef Guy Fieri to a lavish party where the group accidentally eats some marijuana gummies resulting in extreme hijinks. This party scene includes a terrific reference for film fans that ended up being my favorite joke and biggest laugh of the entire movie.
While most of the plot elements and character developments are pretty run-of-the-mill for this type of film, what surprises are the heartfelt performances from the actresses and the level of writing which often comes off as natural and easy. Tomlin has the strongest part of the group, and she reminds us once again how gifted she is at the mixture of comedy and drama as in her Oscar-nominated role in Robert Altman’s masterpiece Nashville (1975). Fonda, Field, and Moreno all are given their moments for pathos as well, and because they are absolute pros, nothing rings false and it all plays as believable and earnest. But the dramatic material takes a backseat to the comedy and when the jokes come in – and they come fast and furious – it’s a fairly mixed bag. Some land better than others, but the actresses work their absolute hardest to get the laughs and their commitment is admirable.
As for the football itself, the film is ably directed by Kyle Marvin in a way that the tension is still able to be ratcheted up for depictions of a game and result that are already known by the audience. Despite knowing how everything will go, we wince and groan along with all of the big moments. When Brady shows up in person as himself late in the film, I was struck by his screen presence and the fact that he’s actually a pretty decent actor. He really holds his own in a scene with Tomlin, and I had to tip my hat to him for that which is no small achievement.
Ultimately, the movie is not anything fresh or especially great, but it is a pretty fun number with better writing and performances than you would expect. And I can’t quite stress enough the difference that seeing this film in a crowded theater makes. It was one of the most startling examples of the importance of the theater to the moviegoing experience that I’ve come across since the rebound of cinemas from the pandemic. Just trust me. You don’t want to stream this one. If you’re interested in 80 for Brady, go see it in a packed house on a Saturday night.
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