THE STORY – Four best friends live life to the fullest when they embark on a wild trip to see their hero, Tom Brady, play in the 2017 Super Bowl.
THE CAST – Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno, Sally Field & Tom Brady
THE TEAM – Kyle Marvin (Director), Sarah Haskins & Emily Halpern (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 98 Minutes
For whatever reason, there’s been one surprising thematic trend that has arisen in movies these past few months: Characters set on accomplishing one last goal before they die, whether due to illness (“Living“) or advancing years (“The Banshees of Inisherin“). Indeed, for audiences of a certain age, that theme has helped to give these films an extra layer of drama to the stories that they are telling.
But can that same theme prove to be effective in other genres? That question is put to the test in “80 for Brady,” a sports comedy based on the real-life story of a quartet of octogenarian superfans of pro football quarterback Tom Brady. Although the women are always aware that they are closer to the end than they are to the beginning, their determination to search for one special adventure is enormously appealing, particularly when portrayed by such legendary actors as Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Rita Moreno, and Sally Field.
Set in 2017, the film follows four friends who gather every game day at the home of Lou (Tomlin) to watch their beloved New England Patriots and the team’s dreamboat quarterback Brady (who produced the film and plays himself). The tradition started some years back when Lou was recovering from the effects of chemotherapy, and the ladies channel-surfed their way onto a Pats game, becoming ardent fans ever since. Now, because of ominous unanswered phone messages from her doctor, Lou worries that her cancer may have returned, and she decides on a “one last goal” trip with her friends to Super Bowl LI to see her beloved Tom Brady play.
Though first introduced as a quartet, each of the four main characters is given her own story and hurdle to overcome. Moreno’s Maura is still processing her grief over losing her beloved husband, while Betty (Field), a shy math whiz, just wants a break from her overly-needy husband (Bob Balaban). The most famous of the group is Fonda’s Trish, who, under the pen name of Virginia Ledoux, has written a series of best-selling novels of erotic fan fiction that center on Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (She is also celebrated for her collection of 21 wigs, the most prominent of which is a dead ringer for the one Fonda wore in her breakthrough role in “Barbarella”).
Through a series of misadventures, they make it to Houston for the big game. They hope, like the audience, for fun ahead. That hope soon diminishes, however, as the script by Sarah Haskins and Emily Halpern begins to transition from being character-based to relying on a series of tired sitcom tropes with cameos galore. No money? Let’s get into a high-stakes poker game! No ticket? Let’s sneak in by posing as dancers for the halftime show! Hungry? Let’s enter a hot wings contest!
What makes “80 for Brady” such a letdown at times is that the creative team behind it is much better than the film itself. Director Kyle Marvin, for example, co-wrote and co-starred in the wonderful indie comedy “The Climb” (2019), and Haskin and Halpert’s terrific screenplay for Olivia Wilde’s “Booksmart” brought them WGA and BAFTA nominations – credits that make what their latest settles for all the more disappointing. Luckily, Fonda, Tomlin, Moreno, and Field have come to play, and they rise to the occasion. Fonda has a charming romantic liaison, Moreno and Field happily come out from under their respective funks, and Tomlin’s skills are such that she can make any cringe concept work. They’re also backed up by such solid comic actors as Jimmy O. Yang and Ron Funches, as well as Rob Corddry and Alex Moffat, who grapple with their Dorchester accents hilariously as a pair of Bay State football pundits.
Suppose you do leave the theater with a smile on your face, though. In that case, chances are it will be thanks to “Gonna Be You,” a bouncy end credits song written by Diane Warren, who has gathered together some musical legends – Debbie Harry, Belinda Carlyle, Cyndi Lauper, and Gloria Estefan, among others – to bring it to life. And if it’s reminiscent of “9 to 5,” it’s probably because the lead vocal is by Dolly Parton, which is only appropriate given that it’s for a Jane Fonda/Lily Tomlin film celebrating female empowerment. In fact, you may still be humming “Gonna Be You” long after “80 for Brady” is just a memory.